Comedy trio Sleeping Trees has become well known in recent years for their “mash up” pantomimes; their 2020 offering The Legend Of Moby Dick Whittington walked away with the Offies Award for Best Family Show. This year they have (according to your definition of these things) hedged their bets or taken no chances by putting together not one but two shows. The first Sleeping Beauty And The Beast runs live at Battersea Arts Centre until the end of the month. The second is their online show badged as “another “Christmas living room adventure” and rejoicing in the title Puss In Moon Boots.
As last year, there’s a feline figure at the heart of the action but even though this is played by the same actor it is no longer the Lord Mayor of London’s furry companion but that of Santa himself. Puss’s big ambition is to become an astronaut (shouldn’t that be catsronaut?) and help his employer deliver the presents in record time – hence the moon boots. The reindeer are less convinced and somewhat cynical about any attempt to make them redundant. There’s also a threat to disrupt Christmas entirely which comes from a close relation to a well-known space based villainous figure with breathing issues who is most definitely NOT from a famous film series. All this plus a cleverly woven in thread about sibling rivalry as personified by Jack and Jill, Hansel and Gretel and the Tweedle twins; this will be instantly recognisable to most parents with a pair of young people in the house.
There’s something remarkably liberating about watching Sleeping Trees do their thing. I think it’s because its all carried out with such utter conviction – the sort that emerges when children enter into role play and games. While we can never forget that James Dunnell- Smith, John Woodburn and Joshua George Smith are full grown adults they definitely channel their inner child and urge us to do the same by shouting responses at the screen and gathering together household items to facilitate joining in the action such as a colander space helmet and a cardboard tube which can become a bright sabre (and most definitely NOT a light sabre). We’re even encouraged to construct a rocket ship out of whatever we can find – warning, this does get destroyed. At the same time there’s plenty of knowing gags for the grown ups and enough references to the Star Fights franchise (and definitely NOT the other one) to keep sci fi fans amused. You may even appreciate an aptly feline/space oriented song from rock royalty Davis Moewie.
The Sleeping Trees have written their own script with Ben Hales and play nearly thirty roles between them with DOP/video editor Shaun Reynolds ensuring that they can talk to themselves convincingly. I’d be interested to see how that translates to the live stage, but it works like a charm on film. Invoking the power of the imagination also extends to the costumes, which come straight out of the dressing up box, the props gathered from around theJosh house and settings – ostensibly around the home of the unsuspecting Mason family who are away on holiday. Director Kerry Frampton co-ordinates the whole thing with tremendous vigour and ensures there is never a dull moment.
This is another totally absorbing and wild ride from the ST team which builds on their earlier successes and, if you don’t live in London, means you can still get you festive fix of this joyous troupe. Once badged by Time Out as “the love child of Monty Python and The League Of Gentlemen” I’d like to add another influence to the list – Kenny Everett. If only because it is all done “in the best possible taste”.