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Review of Bananaman The Musical – Southwark Playhouse

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

A show with a parody of traditional superheroes as its titular character was never going to be a deep and philosophical affair. Bananaman The Musical is either to be liked or loathed, and liked or loathed all the more as it progresses, sending up not only the superhero genre (which is, let’s face it, quite ridiculous, at least plot-wise) but also the limitations that come with portraying superhero characteristics on stage. The silliness goes up by notches from beginning to end, and the sense of humour, while personally appealing, is not to everyone’s taste.

The lyrics are either witty or, for those otherwise inclined, borderline insufferable. An example: a musical number in the second half with laughter included in the words could be interpreted either as a way of portraying the inner thoughts and feelings of antagonists Doctor Gloom (Marc Pickering) and General Blight (Carl Mullaney), or otherwise somewhat unnecessary, inasmuch as we already know they are happy at that point in the proceedings; the dialogue tells us so. But, for the most part, the show elicited much laughter from the opening night audience, and this, by and large, was justified.

It’s very much a modern musical: the scene changes are quick, and the songs even quicker, to the point where a lyric or two was lost, though I hasten to add that the aforementioned audience response bears some responsibility in this regard. Either way, it is some time, before Bananaman (Matthew McKenna) makes an appearance and, overall, the show could trim down its running time slightly without sacrificing any enjoyment to be had.

Eric Wimp (Mark Newnham) acknowledged the predictability of storylines in superhero stories, and there’s something to be said about how theatre shows are, generally speaking, best enjoyed when good triumphs over evil in the end. The show uses the performance space well, with a two-level set, and – something that tends to make appearances at Southwark Playhouse musicals more often than not – a moveable staircase.

There are no detectable weak links in this cast: standout performances come from Emma Ralston as Fiona Mullins and Marc Pickering as Doctor Gloom. The former gets the opportunity to showcase a stunning voice in ‘Pretty in Pink’, and, separately, protests vehemently at the prospect of Bananaman and his sidekick Crow (Jodie Jacobs) venturing out on an adventure without her. The latter’s comic timing was very good and his stage presence was highly convincing.

Putting on a stage show based on a comic strip is an intriguing concept, and I found this production more watchable than I had expected. Some of the costumes (Mike Leopold) introduce certain characters sufficiently before the said characters have even said or sung anything. This show is, in a nutshell, light-hearted escapism, playful and pleasurable – fans and followers of previous incarnations of Bananaman (called ‘Bananafans’, apparently) will not be disappointed.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

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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