A rock-star welcome greets Sleeping Trees as they bound energetically onto the stage. The three-man troupe is a long-term fixture of the Edinburgh Fringe, and it's plain they have a loyal following in the room – but they have some startling news for the faithful. They're experimenting this year with "sketch theatre"… which is like a regular sketch show, except that it isn't funny. Don't worry though: they can't keep a straight face, and soon we're settled in for an hour of tight, high-tempo comedy.
The plot of World Tour – which gets befuddlingly meta at times – surrounds a near-death experience on a plane, and the trio's resulting re-examination of their lives. The experience led them (if you believe the schtick) to take a creative break, and spend a year apart; needless to say, their gap years didn't go quite to plan, and they're now acting out entertaining tall tales about the adventures they've had along the way.
There are some unforgettable highlights. A barnstorming musical number, which celebrates an under-appreciated element of our built environment, is incongruous and ridiculous but genuinely rousing at the same time. A carefully-seeded moment of audience interaction presents a beautiful image of unity, while patting us amiably on the back for being clever enough to recognise our cue. True, it's been done before, but it's still an adventurous style of humour – with enough of a twist to raise it above the standard fare of the Fringe.
There are recurring themes, too. The best-developed of the storylines sees Joshua George Smith – the loveably baby-faced one of the three – caught up in a Mafia-style kidnapping, turning the tables on his captors with a mix of unintended cunning and out-and-out likeability. Another running gag involves an incompetent pair of criminals and their hapless scheme to evade being caught alive. But even the repeated jokes aren't wrung dry, and each vignette is perfectly paced – comforting us with apparent familiarity, before gently twisting our expectations.
The whole thing hangs together well enough, and the framing story of the abortive "world tour" lends the shenanigans some structure. But when all's said and done, this is a conventional sketch show, with comic scenarios building to an often-hilarious punchline. Fans of Sleeping Trees may miss the longer-form storytelling which has been a trademark of their previous work – and the dramatic poignancy we witness in the early "theatrical" scenes is soon lost amidst the more overt comedy.
As one of the fans who cheered Sleeping Trees so wildly back at the start, I worry that this less distinctive style of comedy may get lost in the Edinburgh crowd. But World Tour’s fast-paced, tightly delivered, and eminently loveable – and most importantly, it's very funny too. These three globetrotters have made a welcome return.