These Trees Are Made of Blood had it's third week of development at Shoreditch Town Hall courtesy of the Barbican's 'Oxford Samuel Beckett Trust Theatre Award'. The show is a finalist. A week of 10am to 6pm rehearsals culminated in a 30 minute showing of work to an audience of 40 (including judges from the upper echelons of London theatre and the Barbican) in a basement room at the STH on Friday night.
The show itself is set inside a 1970's Buenos Aires Cabaret, called the 'Coup-Coup Club' (thanks for that one Charlotte Worthing!) and is based around a three act idea of a woman's search for her desaparecido daughter (disappeared during the military Junta of the 70's and 80's). It switches from surreal, to strange, to everyday scenes in the space of milliseconds and is an extremely interesting way of looking at an absolutely appalling period in history during which up to 30,000 citizens were disappeared by a regime intent on cleansing its society of those whose morals and values are deemed to be anti-christian. Torture, killing and rape were regularly employed and most of the disappeared never returned.
Once again I was fortunate to have the support of Angie Fullman (singer) and Hannah Morgan (violin and trumpet) in the band with me, together with the extremely helpful addition of Harry Melling (actor and percussion) who, after foolishly revealing that he once played the drums, was immediately coerced into doing all sorts of rhythms for us.
A frightfully talented group of performers was led confidently into the fray by Director Amy Draper with Lucy Jackson (producer). Once again this R & D was run brilliantly, ripping through the material we had created at a fantastic pace but still managing to try out an enormous number of ideas in a very collaborative way within that structure. There were some new faces, Harry Melling (actor and annexed drummer), Rhyannon Styles (Cabaret artist), Craig Reid (Hula Hoop artist), David Rubin (actor), Guillame Pige (magician) and some old (as in familiar!) faces, Eva Magyar and Charlotte Worthing (actors).
The piece is based on an original idea of Amy Draper's and she has been generous enough to include us all in what has been a great collaborative process so far...
Following the previous R & D, the talented writer Paul Jenkins had pulled together a script of 18 pages including suggestions for the inclusion of my lyrics and songs within the text. The original songs at the end of the week (including those written during the previous R & D and in between) totalled seven. You can listen to first draft of these songs at my music page and have a read of the lyrics on, oddly enough, my lyrics page!
My Little Bird
La Casa Rosada
The Ghosts of Buenos Aires
I'd Do It All Again
The show is certainly beginning to find a really interesting form, conceptually and musically and I am very happy with the way it all turned out and the enthusiasm with which the cast and musicians threw themselves into learning so much new material so quickly. As always I was extremely grateful of Hannah Morgan's violin talents (she created almost all of her own violin parts and solos within the songs and music) and Angie Fullman's vocal talents (she created most of her own vocal harmonies for the songs). Also for their musical suggestions and thoughts I am extremely grateful. Hannah also got a bit of her acting out in the show! Working with them and Harry made life much easier in what could have been a very stressful week, but turned out to be hard work, but immense fun.
The cabaret genre has given me the opportunity to write some of my most ambitious music, given that the only rule in cabaret is that there aren't any rules. Anything goes.
Part of my remit with the songs was to portray the feelings of loss and hope, as well as looking at the workings of practically psychopathic minds, the sense of duty and following orders, the complicity of the people in Argentina. In addition to this it was very important that the songs be used to advance the story and for music to be woven deeply into the fabric of the piece as a whole. As research, I listened to a lot of South American folk music and tango as well as trying to incorporate the crazy world of cabaret... what fun!
Lyrically, it was very rich material to draw from, and having recently returned from Ethiopia where a similar regime was in power at a similar time and talking to people who lived through it. In addition to reading the literature associated with the Argentina Dirty War I have been reading the Nuremberg Diary, an account by the prison psychologist who had access to the Nazi War Criminals before and during the trial at Nuremberg for their crimes against humanity during World War 2. It has been awful and fascinating to read firsthand the Reich leaders reactions to these accusations. How convinced some were that they were doing the right thing, others utter shame at being associated with such things, others amnesia, others admitting that the things were wrong yes, but they were following orders and honour was more important. Having read much about the Dirty War and reading speeches made first hand by the leaders of the coup, the similarities are striking. There is even direct reference to the way certain Argentine leaders idolised Hitler and the German Reich. Worth noting too was the strong presence of Anti Semitism in both cases.
When talking with my dad about this episode in history, he very rightly pointed out that, yes, these are terrible events but they have been happening throughout history and there is virtually no country or empire that can claim to be not guilty of such awful things. The British East India Company committed terrible atrocities, the Russian Pogroms, The Turkish annihilation of Albanians, the Australian attempt to exterminate the aborigines, American slavery, the abominations that the Catholic Church has created, The Spanish slaughter of the south american civilisations… the list is endless. And such things are still happening now in the middle east, Afganistan and Africa. It is simply incredible what human beings are capable of doing to one another.
The competition is for a £30,000 production budget and a run at the world renowned Barbican Centre in central London. So, we have our work cut out for us I think, but a very strong team in place. We will find out whether we have gotten anywhere in this competition this week hopefully… fingers crossed!