4 Min Read

A Suspenseful Triumph: The Bleeding Tree

A soft glow shines through timber lattice and casts shadows across the stage. Everything is still and calm until the sound of a gunshot rings through the space, and we’re plunged into darkness…

Directed by Ian Michael and written by Angus Cerini, this remounted production of The Bleeding Tree defines suspense and is captivating from start to finish.

Emerging from the darkness Karla Hart as Mum, Ebony McGuire as Ada and Stephanie Somerville Ida volley short sentences between one another without hesitation, like they’re high on adrenaline. As an audience we quickly catch on to what’s happened, this mother and her two daughters have killed their abusive husband/dad but now their challenge is to dispose of the body.

Angus’s writing provides just enough context to understand why this has happened. Unfortunately, the commonality of the situation means we only need little information to precisely recognise these circumstances.

Karla Hart, Ebony McGuire, Stephanie Somerville. Photo by Daniel J Grant

Despite having just three people on stage, the performers embody more than three characters. In a manner that feels like you’re being read a story, they sweep seamlessly between their primary and additional characters. Changes to their voices and stances enable these switches, of which Stephanie is a master of, without the need for overt changes through blocking or other means.

As the daughters Stephanie and Ebony manage to establish a clear sibling dynamic, finding moments within Angus’s distinctive poetry to bicker or reassure one another.

While Ida and Ada find themselves conflicted by the death, feeling both relief and anxiety, Mum is almost dissociated from the situation. Karla speaks like the man is still alive and standing right in front of her, embracing the opportunity to finally address him the way she’s always wanted to without fear. She’s stoic.

Ian’s direction sees the moments of darkness balanced with the light and even additions of humour. This is aided by Racheal Dease’s sound design which underpins the whole piece and helps shift the tone of scenes in an instant. A personal highlight was the music used for Mrs Smith, with its uplifting beat allowing the audience to identify exactly the type of woman she is. The heavy feeling of suspense throughout was perfectly encapsulated too by sound, never feeling overdone or repetitive; its effects were lasting.

Karla Hart, Ebony McGuire, Stephanie Somerville. Photo by Daniel J Grant

As the show progresses, we see the women gradually reclaim their lives from the man who terrorised and oppressed them. Visually this is represented through the change of Tyler Hill’s set which moves, so subtly it’s nearly unidentifiable, to provide a greater space on stage. It’s a marvel to watch as the three performers so naturally move into this newfound space, like it’s always been there.

It’s undeniable that Angus’s writing easily wins people over with his poetic phrasing and structures, using the occasional rhyme scheme, which are built with Aussie vernacular. It’s writing that encourages you to keep up and work your mind to unravel the messages and find the context you’re seeking. It’s unconventional writing but refreshing and genuinely exciting to witness.

Further to this, only those who have read The Bleeding Tree’s script would know that there are no stage directions, biographies on the characters, nor is it separated into scenes. Angus leaves these decisions in the hands of its director and performers. This fact makes Ian Michael’s direction even more impressive as he’s truly shaped the work into his own unique design. Ian’s choices go hand in hand with the script yet enhance it in ways I never could’ve imagined.

In its Western Australian debut in 2021, The Bleeding Tree was the show to see. In its return that fact remains the same- it is still the show to see. This brave and empowering piece of theatre is here and ready to impress and challenge you, don’t miss it.

The Bleeding Tree is presented by Black Swan State Theatre Company and The Blue Room Theatre. It’s on now until May 14 at the Studio Underground.