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The immersive show, which has received a string of excellent reviews, blends cabaret, drama, music and songs – and a great cast – to produce a powerful and moving piece of political theatre. Director Amy Draper speaks to LAB trustee Shafik Meghji.
Where did the idea come from?
I did a Spanish degree at Leeds University and spent a year in Buenos Aires in 2006-07. I was at the Catholic University and often passed the Madres de la Plaza de
Mayo and became increasingly aware of them and their campaign to find what happened to their “disappeared” children. In Argentina the politics is everywhere – very live, vibrant – and the recent history is still very present, and rightly so, in a way that I don’t feel in London.
Years later, when I was starting out as a director, I had the idea that the story of a mother searching for her missing child would be an interesting one to tell, from a narrative, human and political point of view. Many people in the UK know about what happened in Argentina – I didn’t know much before I went. And although the show is set in Argentina during a particular time period I think it has lots of contemporary references to other countries.
What kind of research did you do?
I probably did too much research. I read tonnes of books, watched all the films I could get my hands on, and then went to Buenos Aires for two months, meeting lots of the Madres and going to lots of former detention centres, as well as museums and the Casa Rosada [the presidential palace]. I saturated myself in it and by the start of the project felt that I knew enough to justify telling the story myself.
Why did you decide to use cabaret to help tell the story?
I’ve loved cabaret from an audience point of view and had [previously] directed it a little bit. I think the art form is an exciting and interesting way to tell stories. It can be very bold, courageous, hilarious and tragic at the same time.
Essentially cabaret represents the façade that was the dictatorship. A lot of the dictatorship was about covering up, presenting a face, not only to the Argentine public but also to world, saying ‘This is totally fine’. For example, the 1978 World Cup: you have testimony from people held in [notorious Buenos Aires detention centre] ESMA who could hear the cheers from the stadium nearby during the tournament.
How have audiences responded to the show?
We’ve had all types of reactions. It’s a show that, if it’s doing its job right, takes you through a lot of emotions, and I think you read entirely differently depending on how much you know about the subject beforehand.
We’ve had a few Argentinians in the audience, and there was a [post-show] Q&A last week with lots of interesting and challenging questions. One woman who said she had lived through the dictatorship and had nearly walked out of the show during the cabaret section as she felt it was brash and in your face. I didn’t mind that reaction.
A surprising number of people have also said, ‘Thank you telling us about this issue – we had no idea.’ I’ve found that most people in the UK know very little about this period in Argentina.
The show runs until 11April – what are your plans after that?
I would love to take it to Buenos Aires – if anyone reading this would like to help us transfer it, get in touch! I think having a longer run in a bigger theatre here first would be the most practical thing though. I’ve got loads of other projects too, including one about a girl growing up in the Falkland Islands/Las Malvinas and coming into contact with an Argentine soldier and a British soldier.
These Trees Are Made of Blood is at the Southwark Playhouse (http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-little/these-trees-are-made-of-blood/) in London until 11 April. Tickets are £18, £16 concessions.