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Review of The Bleeding Tree at Southwark Playhouse: A Haunting Exploration of Trauma and Identity

Rated 🍯🍯🍯🍯

Two women on a theatre stage, one looking worried and the other smiling sadly
Production Image of Alexandra Jensen and Elizabeth Dulau in The Bleeding Tree at Southwark Playhouse Borough. Image by Lidia Crisafulli

The bee recently watched The Bleeding Tree at Southwark Playhouse Borough, a haunting play that unravels the aftermath of domestic violence through the lives of a mother and her two daughters. No, we don't see much violence on stage, but this intense narrative explores the psychological and emotional turmoil of the women who have killed their abusive husband and father. Whether it is by accident, or a wilfully intended and orchestrated act of murder, or some combination of the two, is unclear and adds to the horrifying opening scene as the women come to terms with what has just happened (or what they've done?).

The Bleeding Tree (but no tree, no blood)

From the outset, the play's minimalist set design was striking. The three women stand over what is meant to be a body, but the sparse stage requires the audience to rely on the women's words to visualize it. This choice powerfully emphasized the women's shock and confusion over their actions. However, the minimalism occasionally felt overly restrictive, limiting the actors' movement and diminishing the sense of the larger environment that might have amplified the tension. The bee reflects on how it often feels as though every cloud in the sky, every bird in the trees, and every little mark on the walls seem like omens, each trying to portend a sign of what is to come or reflect the magnitude and intensity of what has just transpired. The mundane things in one's surroundings seem to come alive, to take on a new significance, as though the world is irrevocably changed by what has transpired. The bee therefore felt that the minimalism of the set made it challenging to fully immerse in the setting’s atmosphere, which could have heightened the sense of foreboding and doom.

Emotional Intensity and Exceptional Acting

The performances were nothing short of exceptional. The actresses—Mariah Gale, Elizabeth Dulau, and Alexandra Jensen—delivered captivating portrayals of their characters' various roles, moods, and accents. Their ability to cry on cue, with tears rolling down sporadically and unpredictably, added a layer of raw realism to their performances. This authenticity in their emotional expression was compelling and deeply relatable to the bee, which has often found in its own life that its tears have a mind of their own and often one needs to cry first before the reason for said tears makes itself apparent.

Themes of Stockholm Syndrome and Community Solidarity

A notable theme was the hint of Stockholm Syndrome, the bee thought. The women's identities were so intertwined with their abuser that his sudden absence left them struggling to find their bearings. Their fixation on the dead body and the barrage of abuses hurled at it underscored their inability to move forward. Their internal demons, rather than the haunting presence of the abuser, seemed to trap them in a cycle of reflection and regret, and perhaps, the lost time and missed opportunities to have lived a fuller life and the stark and horrifying sense that it may be too late to begin now.

The play also highlighted the community's role, showing neighbours who expressed solidarity and were willing to lie to protect the women. This support contrasted sharply with the pity the women had endured for years. The bee wonders if this is a reflection of a society that had substantially failed these women until it was too late to protect these women from the darkness and horror of what they had done. Or perhaps society was just as powerless as these women themselves, being able to do nothing for these women until they took the cause of justice into their own vigilante hands.

Moments of Madness and Repetition

There were moments when the women's descent into madness was palpably conveyed, especially when the mother spoke of growing a rose garden from the husband's remains. These scenes vividly illustrated their psychological fragmentation and the burden of their actions. However, there were also repetitive elements in their constant verbal abuse of the husband, which at times felt tedious. This minor dip in the play's momentum was quickly rectified, but it did momentarily affect the pacing.

Overall, The Bleeding Tree is a powerful, thought-provoking play that delves deep into the psyche of its characters and the societal structures around them. The performances were stellar, and the minimalist design had its strengths, though a bit more physical space and props might have enhanced the experience. Despite a brief period of repetition, the play's emotional and thematic depth made it a compelling watch.

Four stars!


Watched June 2024 at the Southwark Playhouse Borough, London. For those interested in a dark, introspective exploration of domestic violence and its aftermath, The Bleeding Tree at Southwark Playhouse Borough runs until June 22, 2024, and more information and tickets can be found on the theatre website.

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