REVIEW: BANANAMAN (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★★
‘This is 29 Acacia Road. And this is Eric, the schoolboy who leads an exciting double life. For when Eric eats a banana, an amazing transformation occurs. Eric is Bananaman.‘
First appearing in the pages of Nutty in 1980, then graduating to the Beano and the Dandy, ‘Bananaman’ quickly flew onto the small screen for 40 episodes in the mid eighties, featuring the voices of the Goodies. More recently a film adaptation has been mooted but never materialised. This version of the yellow caped crusader was written entirely by Leon Parris, who describes it as ‘A blast from the past with a 21st century makeover.’
With its tongue firmly in its cheek, Parris’ ‘Bananaman’ is a fast paced high octane romp which explores ‘Bananaman origins whilst fleetingly glancing on young Eric Wimps struggle with his place in the world.
It’s utterly silly, just as the original comic strip and tv show is silly, Bananaman is pretty two dimensional – but he is supposed to be. ‘Bananaman’ was originally written as a pastiche to counter the more traditional Superheroes such as Superman and Captain America and this production serves the original source material very well. Director Mark Perry has delighted in the detail of these previous works; my other half was utterly delighted when he noticed that Bananaman’s unique flying style was captured just right.
Set changes and prop business is handled by comic effect and dry aplomb by two cast members (masquerading as removal men). One can imagine with a bigger budget these super hero set pieces (particularly our heroine Fiona suspended over a tank of live piranhas) would be jaw dropping. I would argue however that a lot of the charm and humour that this ‘lower budget’ tactic employs would be lost if this were the case.
Marc Pickering, with his wry and witty delivery, is simply hilarious as chief baddy Doctor Gloom. He is assisted in his evil machinations by General Blight, a comical Carl Mullaney. The titular role is played full of puns and pastiche by Matthew McKenna and Mark Newnham is charming as the sweet Eric Wimp. Emma Ralston is superb as the feisty and independent heroine Fiona, whilst Jodie Jacobs delights as sidekick Crow. I was very impressed with TJ Lloyd as the typical bumbling plod Chief O’ Reilly, especially after learning that this show marks his professional debut – brava! The strength of the entire ensemble has to be commended, you can feel their dedication and love for the piece coming off the stage in waves.
There is a lot going on and a lot of the numbers involve all of the cast singing both in harmony and counterpoint, which at times proved difficult to decipher. I would also argue that the piece is a little long and for future incarnations, would be served well by a little unravelling. The show however is gag packed and had their audience guffawing out loud and on their feet at the end.
Perfect for children 6 and up as well as their parents who fondly remember spending ten minutes after school watching the banana fuelled exploits at Acacia Road.
Reviewed by Byron Butler
Photo: Pamela Raith