The Sleeping Trees, The Vestry, Chichester

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By Sean Parker

A couple of weeks ago, feeling somewhat bereft and melancholy while wandering the streets of Chichester, I happened on a commotion in a bar venue named The Vestry.

This midweek evening there were rows of chairs lined up deep from the stage into the bar area. An excellent comedy trio, local but with a growing national audience, were about to perform, I was told by the enthusiastic bargirl.

Being neither an aficionado nor particular fan of comedy, I just resigned myself to being diverted for a few minutes. However, when James Dunnell-Smith, Joshua George-Smith and John Woodburn – collectively known as The Sleeping Trees – burst forth in their white linens and coherent madness, I was near-immediately rooted to my seat, grinning, and now and again lol-ing.

The Trees have a unique twist on the fairy tale tradition, in mixing them all into one, like some kind of twelve-limbed schizophrenic teenager with Tourette’s syndrome. Thus there are androgynous Cinderellas and Snow Whites being pursued by random princes, dwarves and giants. The whole thing is pulled off with a smart, postmodern panache, contemporary asides and references dropped in when proceedings threaten to get too cutesy.

The trio are also very physical, perfectly understanding stage space and body lyricism, and their ability to fall in and out of character while keeping wonderfully resonant thespianic voices, and tangling and untangling limbs after being a tree here or a bridge there, is enthrallingly convincing. Next to zero props save for a mandolin strummed Beirut-style while they regale us with a coda inspired by the Ratatouille fable, The Sleeping Trees captivate, charm and cheer, turning an entire audience of frogs into a veritable Royal family.