Sleeping Trees MAFIA? at the Wardrobe, Bristol

Parody is nothing new in comedy circles. Ever since the Airplane movie in the 80s, and it’s like, film, TV and theatre have sought the comic gold at the end of the pastiche rainbow. Multi-award-winning trio Sleeping Trees have a stab at the Mafia genre in the first instalment of their “live movie trilogy”. They claim to deliver their version of every gangster film ever made, although it’s style is largely grounded on The Godfather variety. They promise to bring to life a world of crime and corruption and we are told to expect casinos, opera and bloodshed.

You don’t need to have seen Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone to recognise the lines from his famous speech in The Godfather movies. In the first few minutes of this show we are taken from film quote to surreal gangster family as the scene is set and the action starts. Brothers Tommy, Johnny and Ronnie Banucci are the classic gangster types; Snarly Bronx accents with black shirts, white ties and waistcoats. We see them grieving at their father’s funeral and then follow their escapades as a mix-up with money and a verbal misunderstanding lead them into a world of fear, murder and vengeance. There are visual gags, jokes and double-entendres in this fast-moving show. There is also plenty of excellently choreographed physical theatre and slapstick from the three actors.

Sleeping Trees are Joshua George Smith, John Woodburn and James Dunnell-Smith. Animated, energetic and intense, they play the Banucci brothers… and all the other parts: including a bar-maid, the mother, gangsters and hoodlums. There is no scenery on the stage and they don’t use any props; they are not needed as the three performers cleverly impersonate such items as a pulpit, stairs and revolving doors to hilarious effect. They know that the best source of comedy is in the mind of the audience: the (imaginary) cat got some of the biggest laughs.

All this is accompanied by a sparkling live score. There are atmospheric, electronic refrains to start then mood music and musical references throughout. The single, talented player uses guitars, keyboards and percussion to create all the music needed along with sound effects and background sounds. The slick but subtle lighting works to keep the action focused when needed.

The script is effective, the acting proficient and the staging seamless. But the biggest sign of comedic success is laughs, and there are plenty in this show. The audience loved it and were treated to a thoroughly entertaining evening. They are touring Mafia? in September and October along with their other two pastiche shows: Sci-fi? and Western? Well worth a watch.  ★★★★☆    Adrian Mantle   6th September 2017