Reviewed – 4th January 2018
“the first half lacked the sense of fun and direction that the second half successfully delivered”
Having gone through the majority of my life knowing nothing of Bananaman, I was intrigued to learn more about this parody of a superhero and more importantly how a musical could be written about him.
For the uninitiated he was introduced in February 1980 on the back cover of Nutty, a new DC Thompson produced comic. He was portrayed as a hero with the ‘muscles of twenty men though with the brains of twenty mussels’. Following the success of his comic book appearances a TV cartoon was commissioned featuring the high profile voices of The Goodies. The series finished in 1986 but today visitors to Beano.com can indulge themselves in trivia and the original videos. Bananaman continues to be a popular figure in Beano.
Leon Parris has taken the original storyline and written the book, music and lyrics to this entertaining, yet bonkers production. Mark Perry directs what seems to be a cross between pantomime and a Footlights comedy show. Designer Mike Leopold has made the most of the Playhouse Large’s open space with a two level set surrounded by blown up Beano images. The atmosphere is cemented by TV theme tunes playing as the audience enters.
The story explores Bananaman’s origins when weedy Eric Wimp gains super powers which in turn leads to a series of often comical misadventures along the way with (a talking) Crow, love interest Fiona and the bumbling Chief O’Reilly whilst all the time having to endure the awful food prepared by his loving mother. It’s a classic good over evil storyline with our hero attempting to defeat the villains Dr Gloom, General Blight and the Mad Magician.
A fine cast has been assembled to get hold of the content and on my visit they brought laughter and cheer to a very responsive audience who rewarded the hard working team with a standing ovation.
Mark Newnham (from All or Nothing and Sunny Afternoon) has a great voice and plays the part of Eric Wimp well and Emma Ralston is a terrific Fiona Mullins. Jodie Jacobs takes on the role of Crow bringing her strong singing voice to the fore whilst carrying out the difficult job of being the ventriloquist making Crow come to life. TJ Lloyd is a very funny Chief O’Reilly and Matthew McKenna is everything you’d want the square jawed and muscled Bananaman to be.
Standout performances come from Marc Pickering as Dr Gloom and Carl Mullaney as the camp General Blight. Pickering is quite amazing and worth the price of the ticket alone.
Disappointingly I found the sound to be rather muddled and often overpowered the singers to such an extent that at times it was difficult to hear the words that were being sung. The lighting was basic yet reasonably effective.
Whilst I enjoyed the show I felt that the first half lacked the sense of fun and direction that the second half successfully delivered. I’m sure many Bananaman fans will fall in love with this production, though others may find it just a little too puerile to be really enjoyable and worthy of another star.
Reviewed by Steve Sparrow
Photography by Pamela Raith
Southwark Playhouse until 20th January 2018