Review: Bananaman The Musical
Image: Southwark Playhouse
Doctor Gloom - Marc Pickering
General Blight - Carl Mullaney
Crow - Jodie Jacobs
Mrs Wimp - Lizzii Hills
Eric - Mark Newnham
Fiona - Emma Ralston
Chief O'Reilly - TJ Lloyd
Bananaman - Matthew McKenna
Mad Magician - Brian Gilligan
Ensemble - Amy Perry
Ensemble - Chris McGuigan
This is 29 Acacia Road.
And this is Eric Wimp.
He's a schoolboy who leads an amazing double life.
For when Eric eats a banana an amazing transformation occurs.
Eric is Bananaman: Ever alert for the call to action.
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, the Man-of-Peel, is a unique member of the superhero ranks.
This handsome hero may have a jaw line you can see from space and sport the snazziest of tight lycra outfits, but he's also got "the muscles of 20 men and the brain of 20 mussels."
(Which isn't much.)
With a useless hero and some equally clueless villains, Bananaman's winkingly clever, delightfully silly humour has been sealed into the memories of those who saw him first, 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!
If you're the kind of theatregoer who gets perplexed decoding the meanings behind complex psychological or philosophical plots, then Bananaman the Musical might just be for you.
There are no earth-shattering concepts on offer here or life-changing points being made.
This is a show which simply aims to entertain.
And that's hardly surprising given that it has already been running since mid-December, over the festive season, a time which throws up many odd concoctions with the very same aims and providing (for some at least) a much-needed respite from more demanding drama.
Actually, the time of year is quite important here because there's much in common between Bananaman and panto - dastardly villains are in evidence, there's a fairly loose but pretty ludicrous plot, numerous visual gags and at least one risqué kind of joke for more attentive adults.
If you've stopped-off to read the synopsis, you'll know that the story focuses on Eric Wimp who transforms into a superhero whenever he nibbles a banana.
And you can see why this kid might want to resort to eating fruit as his mater has a penchant for ridiculous combinations of ingredients in her culinary endeavours, causing Eric considerable and continuous grief.
Now if you're anticipating some kind of instant, miraculous and magical transformation of a teen school kid into a superhero you'll be a little disappointed because the show opts to take the easy way out and employ two actors.
Well, the option to have Eric morph into Bananaman in front of our very eyes might just have been a bridge too far, even in this era of technological innovation and invention.
Nonetheless, Mike Leopold's impressive costume for Bananaman certainly does the business, and even includes a natty pair of custom-designed boots that look like the peeled fruit.
Since Bananaman was spawned from a comic strip, Leon Parris's storyline ought not to be scrutinised in too much detail.
But it is rather meandering and never feels totally satisfying or entirely clear, even if that is the nature of this kind of madcap beast.
However, the enterprise does feel unduly stretched and might have been more tightly focused and appealing if 30 minutes or more had been pruned from the running time.
And that might have helped tighten-up and condense the somewhat patchy comedy.
Still, there are some good gags here and there - the biggest laugh of the evening arising when the villains asked citizens to "kneel" (no, I'm not going to explain).
On the more positive side, Mark Perry's energetic production does go out of its way to remain loyal to its zany, comic strip origins, especially in the overall design which includes lovingly recreated cartoon strip panels adorning the walls of the auditorium.
And there are enjoyable performances and rousing company singing to savour from a strong, well-drilled cast who certainly seem to be enjoying their work immensely.
Matthew McKenna ably affords a kind of surprised naivety in the dim-witted but jovial superhero and Jodie Jacobs copes admirably with the crow puppet she has to manipulate for the duration while pumping out her songs commendably.
But, for me at least, its Marc Pickering who steals the show as Doctor Gloom, a slightly-built, semi-bungling villain with an eye on world-domination, whose voice alone amply suggests evil intent.
Though the songs and production values are enough to entertain, the show fails to exploit the rich comic strip concept to provide the kind of comedic delight it ought to have been.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Southwark Playhouse
Our show listing for Bananaman The Musical
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