Mafia? is the Sleeping Trees other show. The slightly less attractive, less successful younger brother to their trilogy of irreverent filmic spoofs (it’s actually the oldest, but let’s go with this analogy)
It’s a really funny show, which cleverly taps into the crime film genre and makes you chuckle along the way. But if you’ve ever seen the explosive screwball laugh-a-nano-second shows that are Sci-fi? or Western? then this one can’t help but pale in comparison.
Mafia? follows the story of Johnny Banuchi – the younger, less successful brother of two notorious Sicilian gangsters, Ronnie and Tommy. All he wants is to be a real Banuchi brother. A real life, Robert-De-Niro-eat-your-heart-out Mafioso boss. The trouble is he doesn’t really have what it takes; he’s a little too soft, a too little naïve, and he makes some pretty stupid decisions along the way. Just like the kid in Goodfellas, he’ll have to prove himself in order to get in with the gang.
In typical Sleeping Trees style, Mafia? is rife with clowning, slapstick comedy and a trademark boyish charm. Some of the best moments of the show come from watching three grown men engrossed in pretend shoot-out scenes, full of hand gestures, bang-bangs and overly dramatic deaths (remember that scene from Spaced?) And all of this is underscored by a soundtrack that evokes the feeling of classic crime films.
The three performers bring their frenzied, energetic charm to the stage with a skilled array of impressions, vocal talent and precise physicality, and as they weave their way through all the gags and mishaps, they’re always fun to watch.
But ultimately – just like Johnny Banuchi himself – Mafia? comes up slightly short, and slightly disappointing. The plot isn’t quite as vast and unfurling as their other two shows, and so leaves little room for any madcap comedy or big pay-offs. The story largely centres around one basic misunderstanding, and everything else feels slightly predictable and almost unforgivably corny. Sure, there’s a couple of pleasing call-backs and a scene at the opera, which seems to serve no purpose but to showcase some of the cast’s operatic ability (which is ace, by the way). But the show is not enriched with the dozen characters that pop up throughout Western? or the unpredictable, sprawling plot that is Sc-fi? Instead we’re given a slightly stilted storyline (come to think of it, the plot to most great crime films isn’t really that interesting) and a trio of two-dimensional brothers who aren’t quite funny or interesting enough to merit all the stage-time they get.
Crucially, Mafia? lacks any real feeling of conflict or danger. The villain of this piece has got nothing on the Angel Eyes-inspired bandit from Western? or the galactic overlord of Sci-fi? Instead, The Butcher makes his appearance far too late in the show, and isn’t quite as nuanced as other Sleeping Trees antagonists
Overall, it’s an entertaining hour of spoof, but it doesn’t come close to the genius of the company’s other two shows. It tries so hard to be part of the gang, and who knows, maybe one day it’ll make it.
Mafia? was on at the Boat Shed, Exeter. Click here for more details.