Everyone loves a bad boy and this show has more than its fair share. Bananaman was a distinctively British, 80’s comic strip and TV cartoon with a hero who was very much an ironic counterpoint to the Superman or Batman phenomenon. It’s fair to say Bananaman is not that bright, but neither does he take himself too seriously as he battles villains and evildoers trying to take over the world.
There is, to be honest, a central plot where the winsome Eric (played by Mark Newnham) meets the svelte Fiona (Emma Ralston) but this tale of blossoming young love is a mere sideshow to the main gig in town and that’s Doctor Gloom and General Blights dastardly machinations. In a show where the baddies get all the best songs and the funniest lines, the boy meets girl dynamic struggles to gain traction.
Dr. Doom stands out in terms of both character and actor; played by the mesmerizing Marc Pickering he deftly executes a nimble toed capering and honeyed voice – surely the trademark of a great cartoon villain. He is frequently joined by a rogues gallery of henchmen and hitmen all playfully choreographed by Grant Murphy.
This production is delightfully faithful to the cartoons. The witty book and lyrics are genuinely funny with gags and one-liners coming thick and fast. Top marks go to Dr. Doom when he tells General Blight “Oh lose the wig – you’ve only been in prison a week!” The best visual gag was hilariously performed by one of the chorus (Chris McGuigan) who will now be named Neil Downe – let’s leave it at that.
London’s Southwark Playhouse is a small venue but Mike Leopold’s set design makes inventive use of the double height space. This helps to transport us to a variety of worlds, from Eric’s cozy home on Acacia Road or the Haunted House on the Horrible Hill. To enter the auditorium you pass through the wings with all the props and costumes set and ready to go and the pre-show music ranged from Danger Mouse and Thundercats to the one and only Mr. Ben. Writer Leon Parris has an obvious passion for this genre and has made it come to life splendidly and with universal a-peel!
Bananaman The Musical: Southwark Playhouse until Jan 20th https://www.bananamanlive.com/
Review by JONNY WARD: Queerguru London Correspondent
P.S.There was a slight kerfuffle in the audience tonight but I’m not wasting precious column inches on the unworthy – read about it here if you want: