Review of Bananaman The Musical at Southwark Playhouse

Bananaman The Musical – Matthew McKenna (Bananaman) Photo by Pamela Raith
Bananaman The Musical – Matthew McKenna (Bananaman) Photo by Pamela Raith

Ever dreamed of being a Superhero? Yep, me too. I would love to wake up one day transformed from my normal weeble-like body into a man of muscles who can fly, save the world and generally be loved and admired by everyone. However, as they say, be careful for what you wish for. A point that is nicely demonstrated in Bananaman The Musical receiving its world premiere at Southwark Playhouse.

Living in 29 Acacia Road – possibly one of the most boring roads on the planet – geeky teenager Eric Wimp (Mark Newnham) dreams of excitement. Unfortunately, the most exciting thing in Eric’s life is finding out what strange combination of ingredients his mother (Lizzii Hills) has put together for his lunch. School life is no better for Eric and about the only positive in his life is his friendship with Vlogger and would-be investigative journalist Fiona (Emma Ralston) and even that isn’t much as Eric wants to be more than friends. Fiona though is only interested in getting the big scoop. Every day she interviews Police Chief O’Reilly (TJ Lloyd) in the hope of seeing some excitement, but Acacia Road just isn’t that sort of place.

And then one day. Eric and Fiona, together with Eric’s other companion, Crow (Jodie Jacobs) go up Acacia Hill to watch a comet pass by. A shard from the comet falls to earth and lands in a banana which Eric inadvertently eats and suddenly finds himself transformed into Bananaman, a caped superhero, ready to take on the likes of evildoers, Doctor Gloom (Marc Pickering) and General Blight (Carl Mullaney) and thwart their plans for world domination.

Truth be told, I missed the whole Bananaman phenomenon the first time around, so I wasn’t too sure what I was going to be seeing when I found out about the show. Arriving at the theatre, I got some sort of idea on first seeing Mike Leopold’s two-storey set. Now, a word to the wise here. When you go and see the show, try to arrive nice and early and take your seats as soon as the house opens. There are two reasons for this. First, it might mean the show starts on time and secondly, while you are waiting you can read old Bananaman stories on the wall whilst playing an enthralling game of ‘guess the 1980s children’s television theme tune’ with the people in the seat next to you.

The show itself – with Book, Music and Lyrics by Leon Parris – is really entertaining. It has a definite feel of a cartoon brought to life. The story is a lot of fun – though at nearly 2 1/2 hours, possibly a tad long – and packs an awful lot into its running time. Much of the story is a parody of the superhero genre and there are lovely elements to keep everyone entertained. My favourite moment was the exceptionally silly but really hilarious introduction of Neil in the second act which was, to my mind the stronger of the two halves, particularly with the introduction of Brian Gilligan as the Mad Magician and some of the worst, but funniest, magic I’ve ever seen. A lot of this has to be laid at the feet of Director Mark Perry who manages to keep the silliness to an agreeable level without it ever becoming too much.

Acting-wise, the show has a top-notch collection of actors and it is really the female cast that lead the way with Emma Ralston, Lizzii Hills and Jodie Jacobs in particular really excelling in their roles of Fiona, Mrs Wimp and Crow respectively. Marc Pickering and Carl Mullaney really ham it up as the two baddies and have one of the funniest numbers in the show with much laughter both from the characters and the audience. Mark Newham as Eric and Matthew McKenna as Bananaman are both first-rate in their roles. Mark brings a lovely vulnerability to Eric that is the complete opposite of the strutting of his alter ego.

Overall then, with a bit of tweaking, I can easily see Bananaman the Musical turning into one of those shows that moves on to a larger venue and earns itself a nice dedicated cult following. For now, my advice to you is, if you want to forget the cold January weather and the Christmas credit card bills hitting the floor then you can’t beat a couple of hours in deepest Southwark following the adventures of a boy, a crow and a banana.

4 Stars

Review by Terry Eastham

The most fruity superhero ever to grace the skies is going to make his live action debut in an all-singing, all-flying must-see new musical. Bananaman, the Man-of-Peel, may have a jaw line you can see from space but this superhero has the muscles of 20 men and the brain of 20 mussels. Which isn’t much. With supervillains Doctor Gloom and General Blight attempting world domination, who can we call? Superman’s on holiday, Spiderman’s not picking up – our only option, our very, very last option is… Bananaman.

Bananaman is one of the flagship characters in the world’s longest-running comic, The Beano. He was also the subject of the hugely popular TV cartoon that ran on the BBC during the 1980s.

With a useless hero and some equally clueless villains, Bananaman’s riotously funny, slapstick humour has been sealed into the memories of those who first saw him, and will now spark the imagination of a new bunch of Bananafans. It won’t be long before we all peel the power of Bananaman.

This is the potassium powered musical that EVERYONE will love!
Recommended age 6+.

Creative Team
Book, Music and Lyrics – Leon Parris
Director – Mark Perry
Choreographer/Associate Director – Grant Murphy
Musical Supervisor, Orchestrator and Vocal Arranger – Alan Berry
Set and Costume Designer – Mike Leopold
Costume Supervisor – Daisy Woodroffe
Lighting Designer – Mike Robertson
Sound Designer – Andrew Johnson
Musical Director – Mal Hall
Associate Orchestrations – Mal Hall & Tom Bayliss
Producer – Sightline Entertainment in association with Cahoots Theatre Company and Beano Studios

Brian Gilligan, Lizzii Hills, Jodie Jacobs, TJ Lloyd, Chris McGuigan, Matthew McKenna, Carl Mullaney, Mark Newnham, Amy Perry, Marc Pickering, Emma Ralston.

Sightline Entertainment presents
Book, Music & Lyrics by Leon Parris
15 DEC 2017 – 20 JAN 2018
Start Time 7:30pm
Matinee Starts 3pm
Running Time 150 mins including interval

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