Southwark Playhouse, London – until 20 January 2018
This bold musical based on the beloved cartoon character has plenty of good ideas but is in need of some reworking to make it a stronger show.
First off, it has to be said that it is no easy task to take a cartoon character and place him on stage – how on earth can you possibly recreate the cartoon strip vibe for audiences to enjoy? But to some extent, Mark Perry’s lively production shows that with a lot of creativity and imagination it can be possible.
Just like a cartoon strip, the plot is straightforward and on occasion ridiculous as Bananaman attempts to save the world from the dastardly plots of Dr Gloom and General Blight, with Leon Parris’ book keeping the spirit of the original cartoon and its characters alive effectively.
But it has to be said that Parris seems to struggle with pacing as it takes far too long for the story to get going – hampered to some extent by some of the songs (also written by Parris) and the fact that there is more standing around and talking amongst the characters as opposed to action and seeing fully what Bananaman is capable of.
However, thanks to Perry’s enthusiastic production and cast it is still possible to have fun with the musical and its concept. Mike Leopold’s colourful and bold set really enhances the comic book vibe, while Grant Murphy’s choreography is extremely imaginative – particularly during ‘Biff Baff Boff’ that fully embraces the space to great effect.
Meanwhile, musically although it seems to be repetitive at times, lyrically there is some really sharp and clever wordplay used that makes the audience sit up and pay attention – but sadly not as memorable as it could be. Stand out songs to look out for include ‘Biff Baff Boof’ and ‘Doom and Gloom’ which successfully capture the cartoon’s spirit.
It is also clear that the cast have all really thrown themselves into their roles, embracing the general silliness and over-the-top nature of the musical with great enthusiasm. Marc Pickering as Dr Gloom is suitably villainous as he struggles to find a way to destroy Bananaman for good. Pickering manages to get the balance of extending the character’s villainous ways while ensuring the audience are still laughing at him just right that it looks natural. Meanwhile, Emma Ralston as Fiona is suitably feisty and convincing in her role, while Mark Newnham gives a nicely judged performance as the nerdy Eric Wimp.
Overall, there is no denying that there is plenty of fun and potential in this musical but it certainly needs more work on the plot and music to make the production sharper.