It is a positive sign that in the queue, the couples on either side of me had previously seen the Trees and signed up for another.
The Trees are a trio composed of Joshua, who looks like all the hobbits in one face; John who’s a cross between Damien Lewis and Scraggy from Scooby Doo; and James, a hipster Ricky Gervais who sounds like a chain-smoking Pumba. Together, they multirole a catalogue of characters. Each character is an instantly recognisable caricature of roles from Western films, including a bow-wielding Indian boy, an idiot Sheriff, his bow-legged deputy, waitress love interest, and grudging hero, Harry Sudds. Yet Western doesn't rely on knowledge of specific films, and makes its own comic version within the genre rather than relying on direct parody. You can enjoy At the Movies whether you are a film fanatic or an uncultured swine (me).
Most impressive is the way in which the performers use themselves as set and props: alongside bows and arrows, a man whose face keeps falling off, and a character inside a prison, we are treated to integrated set-pieces where the three become a man on a hammock, atop a horse, or chasing dynamite in a cart of an underground mineshaft. One becomimg deliberately awkward tumbleweed gets a spontaneous round of applause from the audience. This physical theatre in the hands of comedians creates a playful and always visually interesting show.
The Trees are also distinctive for their slick integration of sound and light. The trio are accompanied by a live soundtrack, mixed before our eyes by one-man-orchestra Ben Hales. Lighting changes are equally atmospheric and greatly contribute to the performers’ swift changes between characters and scenes.
There is a fashion for performing multiple shows within a theme this year. It makes sense: as well as allowing broader marketing appeal, and added freshness for the performers, it has the benefit of allowing audience members to return. It is a positive sign that in the queue, the couples on either side of me had previously seen the Trees and signed up for another. (The group also have a ‘secret’ show which may or may not be on Fridays and Saturdays and may or may not have a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory theme. Shh.) However, it does mean I can't speak for their other shows: rumour has it that the former is a more direct parody of Star Wars, and that the Mafia show has the most conventional plot. Really though, given the proficiency exhibited in Western, it's worth choosing based on your gut instinct or your timetable. You may well end up booking in for all three.