Caro Meets Comedy Interview Theatre Interview

Sleeping Trees: The Legend Of Moby Dick Whittington

By | Published on Friday 27 November 2020

Regular readers probably know full well that here at TW Towers we are big fans of comedy troupe Sleeping Trees – aka James Dunnell-Smith, Joshua George Smith and John Woodburn – and look forward each winter to talking about their now-yearly, rather different, pantomimes.

You may have been wondering if we would get to see them in action this year – I know I was – so I’m sure you’ll be excited to find that they are back with another festive offering, which you can access via online means.

I arranged a quick chat with the trio, to find out more about the new Christmas show – ‘Moby Dick Whittington’ – and to ask how they’ve been getting on in lockdown.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about your latest panto, in terms of story and themes? 
ST: Continuing with our love of smashing stories together to see what happens, this year we have mixed up ‘Dick Whittington’, ‘Moby Dick’ and even a bit of ‘Pinocchio’ too.

Our story takes place after the events of ‘Dick Whittington’, with Dick as mayor of London hoping to impress the city with a special guest to turn on the Christmas lights, Santa! But a huge white whale in the Thames swallows him up – and Dick and his trusty cat, along with the daughter of Captain Ahab, must head off to get him back.

CM: For those who haven’t yet seen a Sleeping Trees show can you explain what style of performance to expect? 
ST: There is always a lot of stupidity and silliness in our shows, so get ready for that. As always there is a whole parade of characters that we get to play, and our signature style of making the world out of our very limited means is taken a step further this time, so bring your imagination and you’ll be all set!

CM: Obviously this will be a bit different from your normal Christmas shows because of the way people are going to access it. Is it very different to create one of your shows for the digital format? What challenges has it presented? 
ST: It’s the first time we have ever done anything like this, so everything was new for us. The challenges actually became some of the most fun parts. When we wrote the story, we didn’t plan to make it in a house, so actually creating the locations was a huge challenge, but some of the results have exceeded our expectations. It’s amazing what you can make with some bed sheets and cushions.

CM: Are there any benefits to delivering the show this way?
ST: The main benefit is now the show can be enjoyed from anywhere, before we were confined to South London but now so long as you have the internet and a device, we can be there. 

CM: Lots of companies have risen to the occasion during lockdown and created great online shows and experiences. Do you think there’s a future where this sort of thing can co-exist alongside live performance?
ST: I think more and more things have been creeping towards online and this has just given some people an excuse to try it out. Nothing quite compares to experiencing something in the flesh fully out of your comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing things to be done with online shows. 

CM: What made you decide to do it this way?
ST: We’ve been performing for families every Christmas for six years now and have loved doing it, so we wanted to keep the tradition going and saw this as the best way of reaching people.

CM: It’s not been a great year for anyone, and the arts industry has really been suffering. What effect did the lockdown have on you? Did you have to cancel a lot of stuff? 
ST: Of course, we had to cancel everything! Any plans we did have went out the window, but I’m glad we’ve found a way to keep creating and its lead us to new ideas we would never have done otherwise. 

CM: How did you stay sane / progress your work in lockdown? 
ST: I’m not sure we did – we definitely had some insane times, but we just kept finding ways to work around the rules and restrictions and keep on going.

CM: What hopes do you have, COVID willing, for Sleeping Trees in the future? 
ST: We would love to create more of these living room adventures, we had so much fun creating it and working with the team, but we also can’t wait to get back on stage and perform for real human bodies again. 

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
ST: Your guess is as good as ours, we are going to see what shape the world is in and adjust accordingly to come up with our next idea. 

CM: A lot of people seem a bit down about the thought of a potentially distanced Christmas. As purveyors of seasonal joy, how are you feeling about the festive season?
ST: It’s a daunting thought not seeing everyone for Christmas, but we are lucky enough to live at a time where everyone is contactable around the globe, so if we all take the time to reach out in the ways we can this year to make it a completely new unique experience, it’ll still be a joyous occasion and New Year will feel all the sweeter.

‘Moby Dick Whittington’ is available to view from 1-31 Dec. For more information and to arrange to screen it, see this page here.