David Bowie’s Goblin King from the movie Labyrinth is totally iconic, famous for his sneer, his bulging trousers and, of course, that mullet. Now, in the suitably atmospheric space that is The Vaults, he is authentically reproduced in Sleeping Trees’ fantastic comedy mash up, Peter Pan’s Labyrinth. Well, when I say authentically, he’s played by a drag queen. And the bulge is somewhat larger. Admittedly, the drag queen is the fabulously sexy Dan Wye, who actually does Bowie better than Bowie did himself.
The Goblin King is bored, looking for someone whose life he can mess with. Enter fairy tale legend, Peter Pan. We follow Peter (James Dunnell-Smith), now made old and out of shape by David Bowie, through the labyrinth as he seeks to save Tinkerbell from marrying his archrival, Captain Hook. En-route we meet all the familiar figures we know and love from the Jim Henson/George Lucas film (plus a bit of Pan’s Labyrinth thrown in as a distraction). Although they are perhaps portrayed slightly differently from how you might remember them… Joshua Smith and John Woodburn are incredible as just about ALL the other characters – sometimes human, sometimes puppet, but always hilarious.
How can something so low tech be so sophisticated? From googly eyes to sleeping bags, the props are crap, but the performance as a whole is exquisitely formed and makes the ordinary totally extraordinary. Word play, puns and cultural references give amazing depth, elevating what on the surface appears to be shallow nonsense into a magnificent comedy triumph that is totally on brand for Sleeping Trees.
It’s a clever combination of classic stories, brilliantly executed with perfect comic timing by a highly talented ensemble. And they are clearly having so much fun. You can’t help but join in. The audience engagement is simple but totally enjoyable, involving grapes, lasagne and churros amongst other things.
The show is cheeky, surreal, outlandish and ridiculous, but at the same time warmly referential of the source materials. Like a labyrinth, even its form takes multiple paths, confusingly defying definition: it’s so many things, including elements of wonderful physical theatre, cabaret, drag, panto and puppetry. The narrative too is remarkably complex and interwoven; unapologetically nonsensical and bizarre, but oh so funny. The audience is constantly surprised, with characters and ideas reappearing, or popping back up on themselves to great comic effect. And the stupidity of it all really gets you emotionally engaged with the characters in unexpected ways: who would have thought you’d feel sorry for a singing toilet?
Maeve Black’s fabulous set design makes incredible use of the distinctive cellar venue. Starting from a compact cabaret area it gradually leads the audience’s focus outwards, exploring with the characters on their adventure, until finally staging stunningly extravagant entrances for the Goblin King. It is full of hidden pockets of excitement, with disguised features revealed and flaps opening to introduce new characters. Even the bar space doubles up as a catwalk. Additionally, impressive lighting by Clancy Flynn gives epic value to blatantly unexceptional props and characters, while Ben Hales’ incredible soundtrack has us all bopping along to Bowie’s greatest hits.
This is a side-splittingly hilarious production and (along with the themed cocktails!) makes for a great evening’s entertainment. If you only get one comedy night out this Christmas, make sure Peter Pan’s Labyrinth is the show you see. It will leave you aching with laughter!
Written by Sleeping Trees
Dramaturgy by Shenoah Allen
Set design by Maeve Black
Lighting design by Clancy Flynn
Sound design by Ben Hales
Produced by Alice Carter & The Vaults
Peter Pan’s Labyrinth plays at The Vaults until 7 January. Further information and bookings can be found here.