Friday 5 January 2018

Bananaman The Musical @ Southwark Playhouse

Bananaman The Musical @ Southwark Playhouse

Despite the popularity of superhero films and comic book franchises over the last couple of decades, a musical about this 80s fruit-based hero seems an unlikely choice. Yet here we are with Bananaman The Musical, a love letter to David Donaldson’s character by Leon Parris, who wrote the book, lyrics and music for this adaptation.

I confess, I am more aware of the comic and TV show than familiar with it, it being slightly before my time. The musical’s faithfulness to the original comics is for another reviewer.

But this is clearly engineered to be a night of nostalgia, what with the stage framed by blown up images taken from the Beano comic and TV theme tunes played as the audience enter. It’s a colourful, chaotic production filled with British silliness and irreverence. It certainly feels like a comic strip come to life, its story revolving around teenager Eric Wimp who, after a freak accident, turns into the titular hero when he eats a banana and is tasked with thwarting the dastardly plans of dual villains Doctor Gloom and General Blight. Bananaman himself is a bit of a dunce, with the muscles of twenty men and the brain of twenty mussels as the comics state, but this provides plenty of opportunity for comedy in lampooning other heroes who take their power and responsibility far more seriously.

For the uninitiated, though, the flimsy and inconsequential plot is stretched paper thin and the jokes eventually become tedious. There are some modern updates – Fiona, for instance, is now a young journalist permanently attached to her phone – but Parris seems most concerned with giving it all heart by exploring Eric’s struggle with the responsibility of power. It becomes more Spiderman than Superman, when really it’s far more fun to simply watch the klutzy hero. The narrative is too slight to hold up any thematic depth.

And then the cracks begin to show in the production, with clunky staging, awkward scene changes and laughable effects. Much of the show’s humour derives from breaking the fourth wall to poke fun at the production itself, but it’s ambiguous how much of this is intentional rather than papering over the cracks, no matter how in-keeping it is with the spirit of irreverence. Bananaman himself, though, is performed well by Matthew McKenna with the slick costume to match.

The production isn’t helped by a score that’s lively but frantic, too often overlaying melodies and harmonies as to make lyrics incomprehensible. Either that or the songs slow the fast-paced action to a crawl, without offering anything particularly memorable. There is some fine singing, however, especially from Emma Ralston as Fiona, but it’s Marc Pickering’s Doctor Gloom who steals the show, dedicated to the silliness of both the character and the production with a tongue-in-cheek performance. As a whole the cast have a lot of fun and their enjoyment is infectious, even if this (literally) bananas show seems aimed squarely at children of the past.


Watch: Bananaman The Musical runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 20th January.

Bananaman The Musical @ Southwark Playhouse

Bananaman The Musical @ Southwark Playhouse
Photos: Pamela Raith