Brighton Fringe 2014
Sleeping Trees are three immensely talented practitioners of physical theatre who take any story, no matter how hallowed a relic of antiquity or how treasured a childhood memory and transform it – well dismember it really – ohh, transform is just sounds "nicer", but it is really (very creative) dismemberment. Fast, physical, oustandingly funny throughout.
Supposing Tarentino scripted Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree – now that would be a film and a half. Naaa, it would be better on stage, you’d just need a superlatively talented group of chaps so well versed in physical theatre together, that they could pull off a graphic, eye wateringly funny, and poignant, representation of what sardines get up to in the tin. What has that got to do with The Magic Faraway Tree? Err, I don’t know, but (said excitedly) it was really really funny. Three Trees have a biochemistry about them that infects the audience, and could make a mixed metaphor like this have the audience guffawing out loud without any sense of transgression. But transgression is what is happening before your very eyes. Three Trees slip in and out of narrative, meta-narrative and meta-meta-narrative, but so sure footedly you are always able to follow where they are going. Their vast talent is always on display because every second of each of the three cast member’s stage presence is always individually physically stamped. This makes what could be bewildering transformations, from one set of characters into a completely different set, comprehensible and unbewildering and unbelievably funny. I have seen other productions that use this kind of metamorphosing of characters, but I have never seen it done so seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly.
The audience laughs throughout the forty-five minutes of the show – but they are not always laughing at the same thing – someone laughing at one slapstick gag is drowned out by someone else laughing at the next joke – it s a continuous brook of laughter that gently (and not so gently at those more raucous moments) washes through the theatre. Their faces are mobile to an astonishing degree – their body work is equally expressive, and they are able to sustain, incredibly skilfully, entirely consistent characters, always clearly recognisable, despite there being only three of them.
So to the detail: the sardine sketch aforementioned is just too good to spoil by giving away any of its lubricious secrets. But some other highlights include the strange relationship between the arch-villain General S and his highly valued second in command, who has a wonderfully purringly snakelike voice that supports and plans his generals murder and mayhem, then modulates into a conversation about “Friday then, as usual – shall Sarah pick you up?”. Which reminds me of the deaths, and explains the reference to Tarentino with which the review began. Everyone’s seen dramatic deaths, but these are dramatic deaths, with outflung arms, revivals, looks of Kurtzian horror, looks of fragile loss, ham-fisted slapstick attempts to blown ones head off, each one a perfectly realised cameo of destruction that rivals anything in Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs.
There are spoken gags, there’s clowning, there are quick, fast visual gags that you can almost miss but never do because they are always fore-grounded and projected so well. An example would be just a simple visual joke where our hero Dick is given a chainsaw that is tucked away in the tiniest pocket of his trousers as if it were a key fob.
The production opens with a pixie being chased through snow, desert, cinema, and a loud coarse pursuing voice that is pitched at just the right level of intensity – where in less skilful throats it would be too frantic a start.
They are a must see for this festival – and they have three more different shows at the Marlborough, so there is no excuse not to go to at least one, at least one. I would defy anyone not to be laughing out loud with this original, hilariously funny, superbly technically skilled, memorable, piece of physical comedy. I saw and reviewed their Odyssey last year, which was rip-roaringly funny, wonderfully accomplished and memorable too, but they have got better. Their timing, their working together as a trio with perfect understanding – there aren’t any rough edges there. All this from three young men who share a house in Chichester – this has to be the beginning of something like the partnership of Pegg & Frost, Mitchell & Webb, except they are trio. Watch out for whatever they do!