Riverside Theatre, January 4


Max McKenna. Top: Kitty Litter. Photos: Wenell Teodoro.

Bananaland can certainly be cute, but it can also be trashy. Were it bottled, it would be shocking pink or lime green, come with a high-sugar warning, and explode when you opened it. Instead it’s a crazily schizophrenic musical – a Banana Split, if you will.

Part of that schizophrenia is intentional, the story telling of a neo-punk band, Kitty Litter, becoming entertainment for kiddies (like The Wiggles) called – deep breath – The Wikki-Wikki Wah-Wahs. Another part of the schizophrenia, however, is plain weird. For instance, Ruby, Kitty Litter’s Yoko Ono-adoring leader, lives for her wrathful songs, with titles like Consumerist Pig and Requiem for the Patriarchy, and they’re rather good in their thrashing way. But when she sings about her inner thoughts – as a character in a musical, as opposed to a singer in a band – she suddenly goes all big-ballad on us, and drowns us in syrup. The others do the same. If the art of musical theatre is to blend words, music, character and story into a cohesive whole, then the work of the show’s vastly talented creators, Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttal (responsible for Muriel’s Wedding the Musical), simply doesn’t stand up this time.

The Wikki-Wikki Wah-Wahs. Photos: Wenell Teodoro.

Yet the cuteness factor is undeniable, the show can be very funny, and director Simon Phillips has applied his trademark polish to this Brisbane production, including in design terms. It also brims with entertaining performances, notably from Amber McMahon in several secondary roles that bring her abundant comic flair to the fore, including Mimsi, a thespian of a certain vintage who helps the angry young things transform themselves into an all-dancing singalong troupe for the pre-school brigade.

Amber McMahon. Photos: Wenell Teodoro.

Max McKenna excels as the planet-saving, capitalism-hating Ruby, desperate to be taken seriously as an artist, rather than as a mere entertainer. Georgina Hopson exhibits her fine voice as Max’s sister, Karen, and, among the minor characters, Chris Ryan is a riot as the band’s sole fan: a lonely nerd who draws the line at their latest change of direction.

For every joke that works, another three are merely puerile, plus there are several set-ups in search of a punchline and some awful songs. Terry (Steve Pope) and Terri (Amanda Jenkins), however, deserve special mention as the band’s hilariously deadpan drummer and bassist.

Until January 14.