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The Sleeping Trees Odyssey
Published on Friday, 03 May 2013

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5 stars

Marlborough Theatre (venue website)
2 May, 9:15pm-10:15pm; 3 May, 7:30pm-8:30pm, 9:15pm-10:15pm
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.
 Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.

Sleeping Trees are tipped by the Marlborough Theatre, in their programme, as stars of the future; and after seeing this show, I’m happy to second that. The company’s three performers, James Dunnell-Smith, Joshua Smith and John Woodburn have put together a wild-eyed tale, with mime and music, lots of jokes and some very physical theatre, all to recount Homer’s Odyssey – or what they could remember of it without going back to check.

This – their Odyssey – is the third piece of a trilogy of ‘stories’ shows, and I am now extremely disappointed I didn’t see the first two (tackling similar epics: Treasure Island and The Magical Faraway Tree).  Their storytelling method genuinely works well. It’s not one for mythological purists, but remembered versions of famous stories are possibly even better than the real thing, because the bits that stick around tend to be the best bits. All the Odyssey’s greatest hits are here (Cyclops, check; Sirens, check).

And in addition to the yarn, this show contains a lot of very good jokes, and far more verbal sparring than you would expect from a production that has deep roots in physical performance. At some points the gag rate is so high that the audience have to stop laughing in case of missing more jokes. Good jokes. Very good jokes. Jokes this good are hard. Lots and lots of good jokes are rare.

The comedy is skilled. Whether it’s studied or instinctive, this company has an excellent understanding of the subtle mechanics of funny stuff. A good example is provided by the three visits to Odysseus’s lonely wife Penelope and their son Ricky (see, I said it wasn’t for purists). The first visit is funny, the second has a twist and the third has a twist on the twist. This is proper clever stuff. There is also a bat, who is very silly, and definitely my favourite.

The ending, on the other hand, was disappointingly anti-climactic. They do mention that within the show itself, but – even with this act of hanging a lampshade on the problem – the energy of the performances dipped in the last few minutes.

But that’s a very small quibble and even with it, this piece is close to flawless. It is the kind of show which sends you rushing out looking for people to recommend it to. It was utterly impossible not to enjoy every single moment.

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