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THESE TREES ARE MADE OF BLOOD – Southwark Playhouse, London

These Trees Are Made Of BloodAt its heart, These Trees are Made of Blood is a well constructed socio-political piece. It focuses on the human rights atrocities committed during the ‘Dirty War’ of the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983 in Argentina including the abduction, torture and ‘disappearance’ of student activists who were challenging the regime.

Yet, most of the first half of the production delights the audience with a rich Cabaret of burlesque, magic and comedy and appears to be merely a clever and light hearted political satire. The acts perform in the ‘Coup Coup Cabaret club’ of Buenos Aires, Argentina during the height of the military’s power. The performances are introduced by a seemingly charming and charismatic General (skillfully played by Greg Barnett) and have the audience laughing and tapping our feet to the music. Before long we are caught in the trap of liking the gentleman who entertains us. This is until one impressive magic trick involving the disappearance of audience member Ana on stage changes the tone of the show altogether. At first, everyone claps; still swept up in the rapture of the trick itself until Ana’s Mother Gloria from the audience begins to panic realising that her daughter still hasn’t been returned minutes later.

Thus follows a darker tale of the cruelty with which with the Mothers of the ‘Disappeared’ were treated following the disappearance of an estimated 30,000 young people. This results in the formation of the ‘Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo’ who marched in front of the presidential palace for decades until the military were brought to justice.

With original music by Darren Clark; the show is a tantalizing and dramatic feast for all the senses. A live band of actor musicians play throughout weaving poetic lyrics and Argentinian soundscapes into the drama that unfolds. Harmonies are tight, melodies powerful and the songs though unmemorable, are well composed and enjoyable. Highlights include ‘I’d Do it all Again’ sung by the General after he is convicted and ‘At The Bottom of The River’ (En El Fondo Del Rio) sung by the cast and ensemble. There is impressive musicianship from Anne- Marie Piazza who sings haunting and captivating songs including ‘ My Little Bird’ and plays the accordion and ukulele beautifully throughout.

It seems a missed opportunity not to have cast any South American and/or Latino actors in the production as it could have added to the overall flavour of the piece. Some authentic accents especially in the voiceover tape recordings added historical authenticity and been more powerful. The second half could have lost a couple of scenes without affecting plot or character development.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with the production. It had an intelligent and skillful script and pushed music theatre performance boundaries by using a clever cocktail of comedy, satire, music and wordplay to continuously surprise and shock its audience.

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Reviewed 21/03/2015

By Emily Mae Winters
@emilymaewinters

18th March – 11th April 2015
Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1 6BD.

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