Caro Meets Children's Show Interview Theatre Interview

Sleeping Trees: Cinderella And The Beanstalk

By | Published on Friday 20 November 2015

Sleeping Trees

In common with quite a few of the acts I interview, Sleeping Trees – aka Joshua George Smith, John Woodburn and James Dunnell-Smith – is a group I first discovered via the Edinburgh Festival Fringe,  initially via their dark and wonderful ‘re-working’ of Enid Blyton’s ‘Faraway Tree’ books, back in 2011.
When I knew they’d be headed to Theatre503 this month to perform their critically acclaimed pantomime, I was thrilled, and almost immediately put some questions to the three man troupe.

CM: Tell us about the show. Judging by the title, it’s not just one traditional pantomime theme in there – what happens, and which characters are involved?
ST: The show is essentially a blend of all our favourite pantomime and fairy tale stories, mix those with our surreal sense of humour and wonderful music and songs from Mark Newnham and that’s your show! The primary characters are Cinderella, Prince Charming and the scheming Rumple Stiltskin, as well as Jack up the beanstalk and his trusted cow. But on top of those five there are nearly forty other fairy tale characters who all make an appearance at some point. The show in essence is three guys trying to perform a pantomime originally written for a cast of forty.

CM: Just how much like a traditional pantomime is this show? Would you say it falls into a different genre altogether?
ST: When we made this show the aim was always to attract a pantomime audience as well as people who wouldn’t normally attend a Christmas panto too. The show has all the usual things you’d expect to find in an ordinary pantomime, dancing, singing along, ‘he’s behind you!’ etc. but our style of comedy allows us to subvert some of these devices so they go in directions you perhaps wouldn’t expect. That being said it was hugely important to us that we kept all those traditional pantomime qualities that parents and their children love, and the reason they go to see pantomimes every year. It is most definitely a pantomime, but a pleasant alternative to the usual large scale ones you get around the country each year.

CM: What made you want to mix up the different stories?
ST: When we decided to write the show, we all agreed we didn’t want to just do a re-telling of a normal pantomime fairytale, and rather than simply adapt one we thought we would blend a handful of them together. We enjoy a challenge when it comes to writing stories and thought that through doing this we would create a brand new story that adults and children could enjoy in equal measure. A lot of our previous work is rooted in adapting stories or film genres, so this project was a chance for us to adapt and combine the world of fairy-tales, which as three 26 year old men, excited us greatly.

CM: Have you made a conscious effort to make this appeal to a broad age range?
ST: When writing the show we were eager to make it a show for everyone. We were very adamant not to make specific moments for adults and others kids. We have consciously constructed jokes and songs that everybody will understand and enjoy together.

The music has been written specifically to engage with the audience in the same way. Using elements of traditional pantomime audience participation, modern pop references and classic songs that will have everyone singing along and rolling in the aisles.

That is where ‘Cinderella’ might stand out to other Pantomimes – apart from the fact it has a cast of 4 – that will be a delightful treat for all ages of the entire family.

CM: How does your creative process work? Do you work together on things, or do work separately and bring your ideas together?
ST: With everything we write it is an entirely collaborative process. We find this is the most organic way to devise anything. We will normally brainstorm all together what the point and premise of the scene is going to be, then we will improvise through some muddled lines to get a shape of the scene, after that we repeatedly go through the scene until we find the natural shape of the words and how we feel it should be said. There is no single one of us who does the writing, I don’t think we’d be able to work like that, in fact, we tried once and it went awfully. We much prefer to bounce ideas off each other.

CM: What’s next for you all?
ST: Certainly not a break! After the pantomime we go straight into touring our latest shows ‘MAFIA?’ and ‘WESTERN?’, which had sell out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015. They’ll be appearing first for a week long run at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington from 24th-30th of Jan then touring around the UK in April and May. We are also writing our new show ‘SCI-FI?’, working with fantastic Director Tom Parry of Pappy’s Comedy Club. He worked with us on ‘MAFIA?’ and ‘WESTERN?’ and is back on board to generally keep us in check. We’ll be previewing that show throughout the Summer then taking it to Pleasance Two for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016.

In addition to this we have begun gigging on the comedy circuit, which is really refreshing for us as we are used to creating full hours of work, so creating 10 minute performances feels like a brand new kind of challenge. We are currently trying to get as many short slot gigs as possible.

Also in 2016 we begin recording a new audio show which will be released sometime next year.

We are also really excited to announce that we will be returning to Theatre503 for Christmas 2016 with a brand new pantomime, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

‘Cinderella And The Beanstalk’ is on at Theatre503 from 25 Nov-2 Jan. See the venue website here for more info and to book tickets.

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Photo: Ian Kitt

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