THESE TREES ARE MADE OF BLOOD | London, Arcola Theatre

The revival of director Amy Draper’s “political musical cabaret” about the Argentinian government’s genocide of 30,000 protesters is madcap and monstrous, likely to leave you breathless and stirred to your core.

The audience is genially welcomed into 1980s Buenos Aires’ “The Coup Coup Club”, where Wing Commander Campos (Alexander Luttley) whirls fabulous cabaret feathers in nipple tassels and a corset, while stage magician and hypnotist Sub Lieutenant Suarez (Neil Kelso) weeds out the noncompliant and makes people disappear, all presided over by “The General” (Rob Castell) with his tasteless songs and jokes. So far, so very cabaret, with highly entertaining audience participation showing how rapidly a dictatorship can rise to power. Act two is more traditionally play-like: The Coup Coup Club closed for good in 1983, but today the Mothers are still protesting every week in the Plaza de Mayo, demanding the return of their disappeared children.

The music (Darren Clark) is sensational and too good for the fringe, brought to life by overwhelmingly talented actor-musicians who all mix and match between harmony singing, upright piano, accordion, guitar, ukulele, cello, double bass, percussion, French horn, slide whistle, and everything in between.

The show’s title is not referred to anywhere, though the second act deals less with the regime and more with the massacre, with some frail and extra-tragic songs coming across as overlong. The show in general makes for profoundly uncomfortable viewing, not least because the genocide really happened, and we are all complicit in supporting the on-stage dictatorship. But as Kander & Ebb knew so well, “if you entertain them, they will listen”; that’s what makes this political theatre at its finest.

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