Bananaman review

Theatre, Musicals
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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This bonkers superhero musical is undeniably a-peeling

We’re only a few days in 2018, but surely the award for most unlikely new British musical of the year already goes to ‘Bananaman’. It’s based on a comic strip about a knobbly-kneed teenager, Eric, who turns into a muscle-bound superhero whenever he eats a banana.

If you’re a child of the 80s, the cartoon version of ‘Bananaman’ will have been a non-negotiable and much-loved part of teatime TV viewing. This entire production, framed by blown-up pages of the long-running British comic, the Beano, feels like a passion project for Leon Parris, who’s written the book, music and lyrics.

The end result is a big, messy splash of colour, with ambitions that far outstrip budget and a convoluted plot about meteor shards that bears little scrutiny. A few pages of comic-book caper almost audibly squeak when stretched to two and a half hours.

Parris’s tendency to layer individual parts on top of each in the ensemble songs results in some hard-to-discern lyrics, and he owes a country-sized debt to the ‘Bananaman’ TV theme tune in several numbers – even if the nostalgia kick is surprisingly strong.

Mark Perry’s production also can’t decide whether it’s parodying the superhero genre, its own creaky set or telling a story about Eric finding the superhero in himself. As it lunges at all three, fuzzy choreography and stage direction create an amateurish atmosphere.

But you know what? It’s all a lot of fun. The cast throw themselves into it, with Mark Pickering pretty much stealing the show with his perfectly pitched performance as the dastardly Dr Gloom. He manages to send up the material while staying true to its source.

Mark Newnham makes for an endearing Eric, while Matthew McKenna’s Bananman, bounding around the stage, is a portrait of square-jawed dimness. Importantly, his costume, made by a company that works on ‘Doctor Who’ and assorted films, also looks the part. If that’s where they blew the budget, it’s almost worth it.

If ‘Bananaman’ actually has a target audience, it’s definitely more for adults than kids – and nostalgic ones at that. Scrappy in places, and meandering, it’s highly unlikely to win any actual awards, but its energy, exuberance and flashes of genuine humour carry you along.

By: Tom Wicker

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