These Trees Are Made of Blood (Southwark Playhouse)
This new production is set in a timeless Buenos Aires cabaret club before, during and after Argentina's Dirty War
Attempting a sort of Cabaret crossed with Evita, this slightly weak-kneed ride on the coat tails of "the disappeared" during the Dirty War in Argentina, is set (in the smaller Southwark studio) not in the Kit Kat Club but the Coup Coup club where – for no reason at all – there's a delicious fan dance by a teasing showgirl.
Devised by director Amy Draper, writer Paul Jenkins and composer/lyricist Darren Clark, the show's top of the bill act is the military junta, our emcee the creepy, wise-cracking General who has no children of his own and therefore needs the nation's; there's one thing about middle-aged women he likes, he says – their daughters.
Subsequently, Ana (Charlotte Worthing) goes on a date protesting over bus fares and disappears; the nagging, anxious figure of her mother Gloria (Val Jones) in the second half represents the maternal marches which continue to this day over the still unexplained kidnapped and missing 30,000.
Presenting this scandalous tragedy as a sick joke has theatrical precedent in Brecht and Oh! What a Lovely War, and when there's mention of a "new Argentina" outside the Casa Rosada of the presidential palace – which is where the mothers march – you half expect someone in a white dress to throw up her arms and ask us not to cry for her. But there's no real bite or blackness in the show, although there is a good supply of highly enjoyable and well delivered Argentinian tango, ballad and love song.
The audience sits at tables surrounded by the four-piece band (two guitars, bass, accordion, percussion), a cabaret stage, curtains to conceal the victims and countless cardboard boxes that contain unidentified bones. The fan dancer shakes her booty and departs, but other cabaret performers – Alexander Luttley's PVC-corseted transsexual officer and Neil Kelso's rolypoly bearded commander – stick around more organically.
You can see what they're all getting at, and it's not a bad way of spending an evening, but it could and should have been a whole lot better with a lot more work. Tomorrow (24 March) marks the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice, a public holiday in Argentina to commemorate the Dirty War victims, and there will be a post-show Q and A at the Playhouse.
These Trees Are Made of Blood runs at Southwark Playhouse until 11 April. Click here for more information and to book tickets.