Tag Archives: Chris McGuigan

Bananaman – 3 Stars



Southwark Playhouse

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



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The Frogs

Jermyn Street Theatre

Opening Night – 16 March 2017


“A pleasant show with a sprinkle of webfooted wickedness “


This version of The Frogs, loosely based on a comedy written in 405 BC by Aristophanes, is the UK premiere of the latest Broadway version of Sondheim’s rarely performed musical. It’s original adaptation by Burt Shevelove took place in a swimming pool at Yale University over 40 years ago. This version has been furthermore adapted by Nathan Lane bringing a modern feel to it.

Over the last forty years or so there have been a few attempts to revive the ‘rarely performed’ The Frogs, mostly with limited runs and often with very mixed reviews. Shows become ‘rarely performed’ for many reasons; they go out of fashion, they’ve not done well in the past, they’re too costly to produce or they’re just plain bad, so it was interesting to see what this sold out production would be like.

The show starts with a sparky little piece called  ‘Invocation and Instructions to the Audience’ – basically the do’s and don’t (‘mainly don’ts’ as the song says) the audience should adhere to. The first act continues with, as you’d expect from Sondheim, some good strong songs (excellent accompanying band too), and some rather fun and enjoyable scenes.

There are some clever one liners, such as Dionysos (Michael Matus) saying he only slayed Cerberus as ‘he’s more of a cat person’, and some ongoing Hell themed jokes, which do tire rather quickly. There’s only one main scene in which the frogs themselves make a big appearance, and they are a sinister looking bunch, I’d have liked to have seen more of.

The two leads, Michael Matus as Doinysos and George Rae as his slave,  Xanthias are both excellent throughout though Xianthias’ outfit did make him look a little like a monochrome version of Where’s Wally? Chris McGuigan as (mainly) Herakles was also very good – an actor to look out for in the future we think.

The first act is definitely a fun and enjoyable watch. The second act is less so. There seems to be few laughs and the plot gets somewhat tedious and overly long in places. There’s a contest in Hades featuring Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw, to decide who Dionysos should take back to the living world,  which drags on to the point where you’re willing Charon the boatman (played wonderfully by Jonathan Wadey) to push them all into the river Styx.

The set (Gregor Donnelly) for The Frogs is a little bit industrial looking but works rather nicely. The show itself features few props, those which are used work well, such as Herakles’ club made out of copper piping. Costume design consists mainly of black, what looks like gym wear, with occasional character costumes looking like they’re from the Ann Summers S&M collection.

A pleasant show, brought nicely up to date, with some sinister webfooted wickedness afoot – if only the second act had been as good as the first …


Production Photography by David Ovendon


The Frogs is at Jermyn Street Theatre until 8th April – the whole run is sold out – check directly with the theatre for returns.



020 7287 2875