You may not expect sketch-show comedy, physical theatre and the works of Homer to go well together. They each kind of inhabit their own little world and seem far from compatible. The Sleeping Trees, however, has managed to find a formula for mixing them up which works, creating an hilarious version of The Odyssey as a result. This is a take on the famously impenetrable text which will make sense to anyone, and though some of the comedy tries a bit too hard and takes on a repetitive strain at times, the laughs come thick and fast.
Sleeping Trees has made the smart decision to frame its bizarre and wacky storytelling style, presenting a story where Homer is taken hostage by Hades in order to reveal the so-called Secret of the Gods. Ares and work experience boy Darius then listen to the entirety of the story of The Odyssey told in four short segments over the course of an hour. We watch as Odysseus and Patroclus win the Trojan war, as they defeat the Cyclops, win over Poseidon and eventually return home.
Unsurprisingly, we lose most of the nuance and detail of the original work, but this is to make room for some quite dazzling comedy which is a blend of surreal and sketchy. During one moment, for example, the gods play rock-papyrus-scissors. At another, we see the bat which guided the heroic pair through the maze admit to murdering children.
The trio – James Dunnell-Smith, Joshua George Smith and John Woodburn – are full of the same kind of energy as the likes of the Pythons had at the beginning of their careers, throwing themselves across the stage and finding ways to make one another laugh wherever possible. They each take on an extraordinary range of voices and characters, and don’t stop for a moment. It is their performances which make this show what it is.
There is a bit too much reliance on the comedic power-of-three as a way of building humour before a punchline, and sometimes it feels ever-so-slightly self-indulgent. It’s also true that this version of The Odyssey fails to make any kind of comment or give any insight into the original. But then that’s not the point. The Sleeping Trees’s brand of comedy fits this story perfectly, and it doesn’t fail to raise a smile.
The Sleeping Trees’ Odyssey is at Just the Tonic @ The Caves until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.