Bananaman is a much-loved British comic-strip character who has been parodying super heroes since the ‘80s. The adventures of Eric, a schoolboy who transforms into a superhero by eating a banana, have been available in comic and cartoon form for years, but the unlikely hero is now coming to the stage. Bananaman the Musical is playing at Southwark Playhouse, London from December 15th to January 20th. We caught up with the director Mark Perry to find out more. STARBURST: Why should we go to see Bananaman the Musical?
Mark Perry: It’s the first time Bananaman will be live on stage! Having been a Beano and Dandy favourite character for years and years, and also an ‘80s TV series, this is the first time you can see the Man of Peel himself in the flesh. For all of those who remember him from the comics and cartoon, they will recall what a fun and funny character he is, and on top of this they can introduce a whole new bunch of Bananafans to 29 Acacia Road. The show is slapstick comedy, silly jokes, brilliant songs (amazingly sung), MAGIC! and a perfect festive night out.
Why did you want to turn Bananaman into a musical?
Superheroes are hugely popular at the moment – Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man. Bananaman is the most useless of all of them and the funniest. I have always loved Bananaman. I grew up reading about his adventures from a very young age and his bumbling ways have stuck with me since then. I think Bananaman is not only a funny parody of the superhero genre, but he is a brilliant character in his own right. His buffoonery and idiocy work perfectly within a musical.
How did DC Thompson react to your proposal?
Interestingly enough, DCT had already had a proposal for a musical sent to them shortly before we spoke to them and had turned it down. As you can imagine, this made them fairly cynical when we turned up! I explained that I wanted to take the musical right back to the original comic strips and portray Bananaman as he was: loved by kids but really funny for adults, too. The fact that we were going for such a genuine representation of the Bananaman character meant that they went for it!
Are you ever alert for the call to action?
I’d say I am. My wife would probably disagree…
Given the amount of superheroes out there, does the world need Bananaman?
Bananaman is not like any other superhero. For a start he’s terrible at being a superhero. He only saves the world by accident, but he always does it with buckets of charm and a massive grin on his face, making him the most loveable.
What’s your favourite song?
Leon Parris’ writing is so consistently witty that I find it very hard to choose… however, there is a song in the show when Bananaman is having a moment of soul searching, self-doubt. He sings, “I feel so blue, oh so blue… with bits of yellow, too.” I must admit that is a personal favourite.
What was the trickiest part of the production so far?
The transformation. Eric has to eat a banana and turn into BANANAMAN! No matter how you look at it, that’s quite tricky to stage…
Is it harder to do musical comedy than, say, Brecht or Shakespeare?
No, not really, they all have their challenges. What Leon Parris has done, which does makes this hard, is that the whole show is a constant moving mixture of song and dialogue, always dipping in and out from one to the other so everything has to be timed to perfection. We’ve also got a great deal of slapstick comedy, which requires thorough planning and specifics so that it can look as spontaneous as possible. Much like Shakespeare!
If you had a bigger budget for the show, what would you do with it?
We’d have more bananas. We’d also have the Banana Car. It’s what the Batmobile is to Batman. If we had a bigger budget we’d have that, and then I’d adopt it as my mode of transport long after the show had finished.
What where your favourite moments during the development process?
One of my favourite moments was when we did our very first workshop. This was when, after years of seeing the words and music on the page, they were brought to life and made three-dimensional by some very talented actors. We had always been excited about this show, but hearing it come off the page we were more excited than we ever could have predicted.
How would you introduce the cast to a curious member of the royal family? (Note: This is a cute way of asking you to tell us more about the cast).
Our muscle-bound, muscle-suit-wearing hero is Matt McKenna – he’s so charming he’d probably give Harry a run for his money with Meghan. Jodie Jacobs (who plays Crow) has the voice of a rock star angel and the biggest heart – I’d send her off to entertain Prince George and Charlotte. What we love about our cast is all of them are unique and have spent the whole rehearsal process laughing their heads off and falling in love with the characters of Acacia Road. If Queenie was interested, I’d say they represent the best of British, though I wouldn’t include Doctor Gloom and General Blight in that…
What should we look out for?
Keep an eye out for our villainous villains. Doctor Gloom, General Blight and the Mad Magician are all after Bananaman but they have a unique rivalry all of their own. Also in our production, the character of Fiona is the only one to have had a 21st century Beano update; she’s a feisty one and fun, too.
Why are British comics so unique?
British comics have both exciting storylines and great visuals and the ability to laugh at themselves. There is an irony and ‘knowingness’ which is unique to them. I think they manage to tread the line between action and parody perfectly.
Do you have more theatrical ventures like this planned?
Lots. One in particular which is very exciting which we hope to announce next year, so watch this space…
Truth or beauty?
Bananaman sometimes struggles with the facts, but he’s always 100% sure that he’s a handsome hero. So, I’d have to go with Beauty.
When can we catch the show?
Bananaman the Musical opens at the Southwark Playhouse on December 15th running until January 20th. Bring a bunch of bananas, your family and friends and settle in for an A-PEEL-ING show!
Tickets can be booked via southwarkplayhouse.co.uk.