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Stronger Together: Angus Cerini on Making The Bleeding Tree

It was a phone call from a long-time colleague which became the unexpected inspiration that Angus Cerini needed to write The Bleeding Tree.

The call came from fellow theatre-maker and friend Susie Dee, who asked Angus for some help with a development she was part of with two other women. “We’re doing a project on the scars women carry” she told Angus. “It’s our last day and we’re struggling a bit. We thought a few words might help.”

Accepting the offer to provide some words in exchange for $100, Angus jumped back into bed, where he had already been writing that morning, and started brainstorming this new project…

“Okay, so Susie is an older woman, and the other two, Nicki and Kate, are younger. So, who would they be? Alright, Mum and two daughters!

“Something bad has happened, what’s the worst thing that could happen in your life? Kill someone! Why’d they kill him? Scars, violence, he beat them up. They’ve just killed this dude because he was violent. How do I get him out of there? How do we get these women off the hook?”.

Ebony McGuire, Karla Hart, Stephanie Somerville rehearsing The Bleeding Tree presented by Black Swan Theatre Company. Photo by Daniel J Grant.

Over the span of two hours Angus explains that he “just blurted it out” and across the following two years, he would further work on the script ahead of its premiere with Griffin Theatre Company in 2015.

The play has since been performed across the country, and internationally in Grenoble France, sweeping up an array of awards along the way. Under the Direction of Ian Michael, the show is now making its return to Perth after its highly praised season at The Blue Room Theatre in 2021.

Like many others, Ian found himself drawn to Angus’s style of writing “I was instantly gripped by the power of Angus’ words, the imagery, rhythms in the text and its dark humour.”.

Angus Cerini. Photo by Pier Carthew.

A childhood spent doing ballet is what Angus attributes to his position on live performance and writing. “With dance I’ve got to decide what it’s about, like a weird abstract sculpture. What do I feel?”.

He says his style of writing aims to be solely for the theatre, “What’s the language that theatre can use that’s a little bit like you’re watching the bodies in space and getting a feeling of the movement and shape of it?

“How do we create a form that is specific to live performance, so you know you’re in the theatre? You couldn’t pick this up and put it into film. That’s what I’ve been playing with.”

Likening his writing to a “word sculpture”, this approach encourages the audience to become involved in the world they’re presented with. “Some of the characters and the lines are a bit twisted so you have to catch up a bit, so you know what’s going on, so you’re not confused but you’re intrigued.”

Angus says it wasn’t until after the play debuted that he realised why it was received so well. He puts it down to the play’s ability to sit just “outside of reality” through fantastical and gothic elements which bring an unanticipated sense of humour.

“I was in a performance a few months ago and [there was] an older bloke, who was silent and didn’t know how to take it until the scene where the rats eat the body. He started chuckling. He was really enjoying himself at the image of the rat eating the guy’s d**k.”

“Audiences have a bit of a giggle. It’s grotesque. It’s not real, it’s so far-fetched. It was pleasurable to take what is real and take it away into make-believe. It’s not gruelling and traumatic.”

Ebony McGuire, Karla Hart, Stephanie Somerville rehearsing The Bleeding Tree presented by Black Swan Theatre Company. Photo by Daniel J Grant.

At its core, however, the show unites its audience in barracking for these women, just like the characters of the three visitors who find their own ways to help. Angus describes the visitors as mirrors of ourselves, “It was so enjoyable to write those people [the visitors] because they are us.”

In admiring the strength of these women and willing them to succeed, we become a part of the story. “The women are not victims.” Angus explains. “They win, we all win. We have this special secret we share, and the bad guy is gone.

“I think The Bleeding Tree is less about the violence and more about us saying, no more, no longer, we are you. We’re stronger together.”

The Bleeding Tree presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company, written by Angus Cerini and directed by Ian Michael runs from 29 April to 14 May at the Studio Underground.