I heard about the 2009 Black Saturday fires from Facebook while enjoying coconut pie in green and rainy Ubud, Bali. I couldn’t have be more removed from the winds and oven-hot dryness, but was back in Canberra on a similar day in 2003 when I had packed a box of photos, wasn’t letting the cats outside and was ringing friends who lived near the suburb of Duffy. Everyone I know survived, but a few evacuated, one had the fire stop at his front door and one family watched their house disappear in minutes. The stories from bush fires strike the spot in our soul that knows fear and integrating these stories into our culture is such a part of our community recovery.
Christine Croyden wrote The Fallen Tree in response to Black Saturday as “an attempt to make sense of something that made no sense”. Director Wayne Pearn and designer Alice Bishop use the tiny black space of La Mama to evoke a visceral sense of a destroyed and blackened world. The green isn’t there yet, but the smell of eucalyptus promises that recovery is slow, but inevitable.
It’s the story of Hannah (Libby Gott), whose world was gutted before the recent fire, and her neighbour Claire (Bridgette Burton), who needed the searing heat to reveal a truth she’d refused to see about Hannah’s step father (Jonathon Dyer). As the fire becomes metaphor, it becomes a story of trauma and abuse and possible revenge.
What I love about Croyden is that she writes directly from her heart with an undiluted passion and anger; however, this passion can get in the way of her stories. Wanting to explain the whole picture leaves characters speaking so honestly that there’s no sense of subtext and, as an audience, we’re left without doubt or question.
When I think about great stories, the ones I remember are those that lead to discussions or arguments about what really happened. More doubt could make the climax of The Fallen Tree much stronger. Doubt about who is right and even about what happened would force the audiences to question, discuss and argue about what each is certain is the truth.