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Sophie Drake - The Bleeding Tree Interview

A daring exploration of women pushed to the edge, landmark Australian play The Bleeding Tree will have its UK premiere at Southwark Playhouse Borough, having previously won the Griffin Award, the Helpmann Award for Best Play and the David Williamson Prize for Excellence in Writing for Australian Theatre. This moving yet darkly funny drama from acclaimed playwright Angus Cerini follows a mother and her two daughters who, in order to survive, have had to go to extremes. 

Following years of abuse from the man of the house, The Bleeding Tree’s leading women have finally reached the end of their tether and shot him dead. Now they must deal with their fluctuating feelings – from shock to relief to guilt – all whilst figuring out how to dispose of a body. This lyrical work examines women’s resilience and gives a voice to women who have experienced domestic violence. 

In a production directed by Sophie Drake and presented by Jessie Anand Productions, The Bleeding Tree will offer a fascinating exploration of the moral ambiguity around what we do when pushed to the limit. It also reflects on the shades of grey around whistleblowing, as the complicity of the women’s community in covering up what is happening to their neighbours comes to light. Cerini’s play revels in its language and in the Australian Gothic genre, and ultimately celebrates the strength and bravery of three women that the audience can’t help but root for in their struggle to survive.

Ahead of the production running at Southwark Playhouse, we caught up with director Sophie Drake.

Where did your arts career begin? 
I read English Literature & Theatre Studies at the University of Leeds and directed a lot during that time. From there I trained under Michael Grandage on his production of Red in the West End.

Were there any people or performances that had a big impact on your formal years? 
Sarah Kane’s work for challenging my ideas surrounding what theatre can be. Working with Ian McKellen on Hamlet. Every director I’ve assisted. 

What attracted you to The Bleeding Tree? 
I’ve never read a play like it. It’s dark, visceral, provocative and deeply theatrical in its form and witty celebration of language. Its message is political and it demands a certain level of precision and tenacity from its actors. It has a surprising quality to it and is audacious in its resolution. 

How have you approached bringing Angus Cerini's text to life? 
The play evokes a remarkable catalogue of people and locations that exists only in the imaginations of the audience, so it’s a challenge of storytelling through the body, voice, and an atmospheric design world. I am keen to complement Cerini's elegant poetic style so that his language sings. 

What has been the biggest challenge with staging this production? 
One of the challenges of staging is conjuring the reality of their experiences with minimal use of props and scenic elements. Mapping a specific physical world to aid the storytelling has therefore been vital. 

Have you had to do any research whilst developing the production? 
This is an Australian play and we’ve remained true to its location, so I’ve been doing a lot of research into its influences but also what rural life is like in outback Australia. I’ve also done a deep dive into the Gothic genre, which is rich and expansive. 

What keeps you inspired? 
Watching and making art that feels daring and emotionally engaging. The experience of true collaboration with others in a creative environment. 

What do you hope an audience takes away from seeing The Bleeding Tree?
I hope they will feel part of the intense journey the women go on, that they root for their outcome and feel power in their courage.

The Bleeding Tree plays at Southwark Playhouse Borough (Little) from Wednesday 29th May until Saturday 22nd June 2024. Tickets are available from

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