Brighton Fringe 2014
Sleeping Trees apply their vast physical and verbal comic expertise to tell a Mafioso coming of age tale, with live music throughout from The Physics House Band. Virtuoso comedy, lively and very funny.
Three Trees musical combo with the Physics House Band is as physical as it gets, a rendering of every Mafiosi gangster story you have ever heard, with as many spectacular deaths as you would expect, all for comic effect. In between the kind of story you might expect, though, are little gems of comic observation acted out and placed on a staged platter. Mafia has Three Trees trademark physical virtuosity, backed by a thumping soundtrack at times, at other times by musical jokes, interludes that might riff on a long organ note, or on the quiet tangible boredom of an elevator soundtrack. The actors feed off the music and vice versa – there is a nice live interplay between them, some of it scripted, some of it not (but that’s first nights for you).
Having a live band on stage means that the small proscenium at the Marlborough was quite crowded visually, and I missed seeing their use of space to delineate and separate – some of the stage work was rather compressed as a result, so that the riff on the hero’s wading through an unfeasible number of enemies did feel rather cramped. It still held visible, well realised visual jokes though. They can take a common trope, such as the hitting of a villain’s head to and fro for example, and extend it into a balletic punch bag of a micro-scene which is well developed and gets deserved laughter from the audience.
Working with a live band also brings issues of sound balance and they did well to use radio mikes, so they were audible, and did not lose one of their signature strengths which is the delineation of character by, and humour from, a good range of voices – although accents slipped now and again as it’s difficult to hear your own voice. They must have worked hard on the means to keep them well attached, but even so there was the odd readjustment of the headset necessary. These are just quibbles though. This partnership, after all, did deliver some convincing operatic singing, a crying diva and more.
The show made me realise how close gangster shows are to being spaghetti westerns acted out in suits and cars. Part coming of age story, part Godfather the narrative line is what you would expect, but the fun comes with Three Trees meticulous and disciplined physical presence. Their trademark is physical theatre without props or costume, but they relented from the Spartan costuming to go for the white shirts and braces of the mob. It’s enough to situate the show visually in the Mafioso world without getting too cluttered. That being said it is their more surreal flights that really take off – as one of our protagonists takes off in a luxury lift that appears to take a lifetime to arrive, the muzac and the musing are comic gold.
The cameos and asides are well worked and complete in themselves – one of the two guards of the villain’s suite, not the brightest penny in the pile, tries to tell a joke that we know he is going to fail at, but the execution is all. And execution is what Mafia delivers in spades, whether it is the genuinely horrifying knife thrusts of the butcher, or choreographed stage fights and shoot outs. As ever with Three Trees these are all have different twists too them (literally in terms of bodily contortions) – there is always something different to laugh at. They carried the narrative and sets of characters well – in their shows you can look at the scene as a whole, or just at one actor’s face and both will give you consistent, often comic in their own right, cues as to what it is going on. Even when you don’t – I was confused by the representation of stairs by two of the cast holding a diagonal freeze to mimic stair railings as someone ran up them – but then when he decided to take the lift, and the railings metamorphosed into lift doors it all fell into place.
Three Trees are always fun to watch, and their slapstick, verbal and visual humour is always entertaining. Adding live music to their mix could not have been easy, but it did work- they had a responsive band that gave another layer of entertainment to their performance – and they were deserving of their sell-out show in front of a very appreciative audience, that gave them a big ovation at the end.