Bananaman at Southwark Playhouse
Nestled in South London’s Southwark Playhouse is the eagerly awaited adaptation of the original comic book and 1980s television show Bananaman. Pictures of comic strips adorn the walls, including Dennis the Menace and the blue-and-yellow superhero himself.
Directed by Mark Perry with music and lyrics by Leon Parris, Bananaman is the rambunctious tale of ordinary teenager Eric Wimp (Mark Newnham) who suddenly gains superpowers after a comet lands on Earth. Set in the quiet suburbs of Acacia Road, it’s a place where nothing ever happens. The peace is soon interrupted by villains Doctor Gloom and General Blight – both determined to take over the world, singing their evil plans, disguised as a post-box and dustbin – portrayed excellently by Mark Pickering and Carl Mullaney; Doctor Gloom sounds like an evil scientist while General Blight is played as a stereotypical German Nazi, reflecting Britain’s pop culture when the comic first attracted fans.
Soon after, the talking bird, Crow, starts singing too, held by ventriloquist Jodie Jacobs. Though this is a musical, there is a lot of singing within only ten minutes of the show starting, just a little taste of what’s yet to come.
Eric is a misfit, bullied in school, secretly in love with Fiona Mullins (Emma Ralston) and living with his awkwardly funny mother (Lizzii Hills). As Eric gains the “strength of 20 men” in Bananaman, portrayed enthusiastically by Matthew McKenna, his IQ does not grow, leaving him bewildered even with the easiest of mathematical equations. This plays into the silliness of the production, drawing from its roots in the Beano comics and five-minute television episodes in the 1980s. Its predictability doesn’t lessen the charm, as the audience are left laughing, splitting their sides – not unlike bananas.
The ineptness of policeman Chief O’Reilly (TJ Lloyd) brings a loveable character into the mix, as we see his lack of skills and inability to solve even the simplest crimes. Bananaman may not be the smartest fruit in the basket, but his strength, combined with Eric’s intelligence, saves the day (and the world) from the evil Doctor Gloom and General Blight.
The over-exaggerated actions as well as the song and dance routines make the show a live-action cartoon, with funny moments like the cast jumping with cards on which are written words “bam”, “kapow”, “bang”, and “slam”, and funny asides where the hilarious script doesn’t shy away from laughing at its own absurdity. The energy and absolute joy that goes into the performance is visible every step of the way, as all cast members give it their all, producing visible perspiration on their beaming faces, leaving spectators breathless.
Bananaman remains loyal to the original, and is a nostalgic classic for those who grew up with the comics and television show; and for those who didn’t, it is a thoroughly entertaining madcap performance with a contagious boisterous energy and fun that will leave you in peals of laughter.
Photo: Pamela Raith
Bananaman is at Southwark Playhouse from 15th December 2017 until 14th January 2018. Book your tickets here.