Review: Bananaman, The Musical, Southwark Playhouse

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I absolutely adore the Southwark Playhouse. I find that the large spaces and interchangeable set-ups allow the staging to mould to the pieces being performed as opposed to being the other way round. This is why I had very high hopes, even for a musical named after ‘Bananaman’.

After being introduced in the 1980s in the notorious ‘Nutty’ comic, Bananaman took over the spread and inspired readers everywhere. Whether you’re a notorious ‘Bananafan’ or a ‘Banananewbie’, nothing can prepare you for the nostalgic and detailed comic strip decoration that surrounds the room. The bright colours used are completely reminiscent of those used back in the day; they ‘Pow!’, ‘Kablam’ and ‘Thwak!’ you in to the setting straight away.

There are just so many components that made this show brilliant. Firstly, the score and book are second to none. The catchy songs and vibrant harmonies beautifully decorate what is possibly one of the wittiest scripts I’ve heard in a long while. The nods to musicals such as Matilda, Avenue Q and the song ‘Modern Major General’ from Pirates of Penzance, as well as the campiness of superheroes in general, are gems for the musical and/or comic fan to find which make the experience even more enjoyable. You’re at a headstart with a musical this fresh, but when it is supported by a cast as stellar as this, and you create a complete masterpiece. The direction and attention to detail made it absolutely hilarious, enjoyable, and just when you didn’t think it could possibly top itself, it does again and again. I had tears from laughter streaming down my face.

This is a musical that certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously, and plays the parody at its sharpest angles to create moments of pure genius. It’s rare that you have a cast that are equally strong where they can pull this off, with perhaps Emma Ralston’s interpretation of Fiona Mullins being ever so slightly towards being a little ‘too serious’ to fit some of the elements created; I was craving some more excitable energy from her at times. Saying that, it’s clear why she was cast for the part as her voice is absolutely phenomenal, but I felt she generally lacked the same tone that the rest of the cast reciprocated.

A personal highlight for me was Marc Pickering’s outstanding performance as Dr Gloom/Professor Bloom/Va Va Voom. Pickering is an absolute master of “the villain”, in a way that every single time he was on stage, no matter where that be, I was completely glued as I didn’t want to miss a single thing he did. Everything has been studied so well, from the “evil walks” across the floor to every single sound he creates, and this is well reciprocated by General Blight (Carl Mullaney). The “evil laugh” song has got to be one of my most favourite moments I have ever witnessed on stage.

If this does not transfer to a larger theatre for more opportunity for audiences to watch, I will personally campaign until it does. As a collective, the piece is virtually unclockable in terms of improvements, and I only wish the cast weren’t limited within space slightly so that we can see even more of them. I implore everyone to go and see this before it closes. It’s plain and sim-peel.

Bananaman The Musical is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 20th January 2018. For more information and tickets, see southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/bananaman.

Steph J. Watkins

Steph J. Watkins

Steph is an actress and a keen theatre goer, foodie and wine drinker. She has a degree in Musical Theatre and also studied Acting for Stage and Screen at The American Musical Theatre Academy. She loves nothing more than sitting down with a good play and a glass of Rioja, if she's not already at the theatre, that is!