Arcola Theatre, London – until 15 July 2017
Guest reviewer: Heather Deacon
These Trees Are Made of Blood is quite the title, and “political musical cabaret” is quite the concept. Inspired by the director’s study year in Buenos Aires and the harrowing yet inspiring story she uncovered there, this is a performance well deserving of its transfer from the Southwark Playhouse.
Rob Castrell as the General, making full use of his dangerous eyes and casual charm, takes centre stage. He draws us into the seemingly fine and dandy world of 1970s Argentina (The Coup Coup Club, the “p” is silent) with his brazen Wing Commander (Alexander Luttley) backup prancing in marvellous drag. Luttley is cheeky and flirtatious from the moment one enters the theatre, piquing the audience’s curiosity about what lies in store before they’ve even picked up their tickets.
The three military leads beautifully juxtapose each other, from the commanding gumption of the General, to the gentle but discerning tones of Lieutenant Suarez (Neil Kelso), who mesmerises with magic that seems playful if you don’t think about it too much and the Wing Commander in shoes that one could barely walk in.
The whole point of the 1970s military in Argentina seems to have been to ensure that the people didn’t think too much and trusted the seemingly magnanimous General, the self proclaimed Father of the Nation. With the audience taking on the role of the nation it isn’t difficult to ride the wave into stark realisation with Ellen O’ Grady’s Madre.
The chief double-threat in a show of marvellous actor/singers is O’Grady, who gives the most honest performance (in the sense most others have a hidden agenda or several characters to encompass). Her stunning and heart bursting rendition of My Little Bird in the second act leaves the audience in little doubt that the perceived light-heartedness is well and truly over.
Darren Clark’s musical numbers ingeniously make the audience laugh when they shouldn’t for as long as possible before a perhaps too hasty descent into the dark reality of the plot. In true cabaret style, the music is brought to life by an incredible live band including Anne-Marie Piazza playing accordion and ukulele, Josh Sneesby on guitar and grieving boyfriend, Eilon Morris playing drums and Judge and Rosalind Ford playing cello and CIA agent stripper.
Amy Draper directs a show that surprises, entertains and informs, bringing into the light a worryingly modern but not widely known conflict that ended with the Falklands War. The show harrowingly acknowledges the Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo, who continue to remember the hundreds of disappeared children under the stifling regime of the Dirty War.
The sometimes overly literal language hints at the show’s flaws, but that is by no means a reason not to buy a ticket. See this show to peek behind a flashy cabaret curtain and uncover a fascinating tale of subterfuge and state terrorism beyond.