We are currently living in a world where comic books are king. However, notably missing from the huge roster of comic book reboots are characters from The Beano. This national treasure has never taken itself seriously and is packed with very silly fun. Enter: Bananaman The Musical, an attempt to add this unique voice in the world of comics to growing chorus of superhero stories. The result is highly pleasing; A hilarious musical for Generation X and their kids. For those who weren’t lucky enough to be young in ‘80s Britain, Bananaman is a deeply silly take on boyish power fantasy comics such as Bill Parker’s Shazam!, Siegel and Shuster’s Superman or Mick Anglo’s Marvelman. Eric Wimp is a schoolboy who, when he eats a banana, turns into a yellow and blue musclebound idiot who can bend steel and fly. Many of us will remember the 1983 cartoon, featuring the vocal talents of the Goodies. Sightline Entertainment, the producers of this show certainly did. As we entered the Southwark Playhouse’s main stage, the interlude music was a collection of ‘80s kids TV show theme tunes.
The show opens with an explanation of how boring Eric Wimp’s life is, how dull Acacia Road and introduces the characters. Notably, Fiona the news reporter is re-imagined as a schoolgirl reporter with own YouTube channel, and is an actual character rather than a prop. In proper Beano style, the girls are just as awesome as the guys, thank you very much.
Jodie Jacobs tackles the difficult task of Crow exceptionally well. This is a crow that flaps around and sings, and the puppet is very charming, very witty and carries much of the narrative on its slender feathered shoulders. Mark Newnham sells the earnest rubbishness of Eric Wimp perfectly, and Matthew McKenna is clearly having the time of his life as Bananaman. His comic timing is perfect.
The show is stolen, in part, by the villains. Which is exactly what you want. Marc Pickering is Doctor Gloom, and chews the scenery as the smartest buffoon in the room and has all the best songs. Carl Mullaney’s General Blight tempers Pickering’s performance with an absurd sense of manic outrage and the two bounce off each of as cackling baddies throughout.
The songs are fun, cracking and catchy. They tell the story but are the sort of songs you’d listen to again and again. They mock the recent seriousness of the superhero genre with a playful sense of fun and are quite memorable.
There are some flaws with the storytelling; Eric’s intelligence is established early on, in fact, his nerd and geek credentials have their own song. When Eric turns into Bananaman, fans know that the hero has the muscles of twenty men and brains of twenty mussels, but this isn’t established until much later. It’s a minor detail, but one that could be easily fixed. The scenes at the end rush slightly too quickly, but that’s fine. By now you’ve climbed aboard the Banana boat of fun and are laughing so hard it’s tricky to keep up with the gags. The venue also delivered a few sound issues early on, but these were swiftly resolved. That said, this isn’t a super-slick production and nor should it be. The source material is chaotic and silly and that’s part of the appeal. A highly professional production throughout though one with a deliberately anarchic vibe. We particularly loved the way some of the ensemble cast where dressed as ‘brown-coat and flat cap’ janitors when moving bits of the set around, and that they were actual characters. A splendid fourth-wall shout out that was instantly recognisable to the target audience. Costume Supervisors Nia Evans and Daisy Woodroffe have done an amazing job getting the look the characters spot on, right down to the socks and the titular hero looks as silly as he does wonderful. There are some lovely Easter eggs in the show’s design, from the mortar-board hat on the teachers to a sign pointing to Bash Street. Director Mark Perry has nailed it; this is The Beano come to life. Bananaman The Musical is lovely and ripe, dipped in nostalgia and fun, and served with glee and manic silliness. This is a show for everyone, but will especially delight young families who may not think of themselves as arty, but do love a good night out. We profoundly hope that it tours so more people can see it.
PRODUCER: SIGHTLINE ENTERTAINMENT IN ASSOCIATION WITH CAHOOTS THEATRE COMPANY AND BEANO STUDIO / DIRECTOR: MARK PERRY / BOOK, MUSIC AND LYRICS: LEON PARRIS / ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR: GRANT MURPHY / STARRING: MARC PICKERING, CARL MULLANEY, JODIE JACOBS, LIZZII HILLS, MARK NEWNHAM, EMMA RALSTON, TJ LLOYD, MATTHEW MCKENNA, BRIAN GILLIGAN, AMY PERRY, CHRIS MCGUIGAN / AT THE SOUTHWALK PLAYHOUSE, LONDON UNTIL JANUARY 20TH