Review: Bananaland @ QPAC (Brisbane)

'Bananaland' - Image © Darren Thomas

In its world premiere as part of Brisbane Festival, this Australian musical was a sheer delight, with the audience laughing, cheering and snapping their way through the show.

Kitty Litter is a band, nay, ‘onstage conceptual Art slash Music orientated happening’. . . Struggling to find its audience. After too many years on the road in a clapped out car playing to empty halls, the members of the ‘happening’ are starting to get discouraged. What happens next certainly makes them more popular, but it cleaves the groups in two. Do they want to be successful sell-outs, or impoverished nobodies with integrity but only one fan?

'Bananaland' tells the story of a dream in crisis, and of finding your identity and values. The team behind the musical (Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall) hope that the audience can see themselves in their characters: Ruby, Karen, Seb and Ex. Judging from the reaction, they hit their target. Theatregoers of all stripes and spots were in the audience, and facets of them all appeared on stage.

The performers were diverse, with non-binary actor Max McKenna taking centre stage as Ruby, but more ethnic diversity would have been even more amazing. The characters were also wide ranging. From a footy-loving, stubbie-wearing anglo with a penchant for blackmail and the spotlight (just don’t call him a boomer), to mum in a same-sex relationship struggling with balancing parenting with the work she loves, to an insta-loving capitalist, a rich kid and weirdos and oddballs a plenty, 'Bananaland' had something for everyone.

Image © Darren Thomas

It was also a quintessentially Aussie play – people sung in their own accents, and jokes about our music industry and politics (Clive Palmer, anyone?) hit the audience in the feels. While it may restrict possibilities of overseas touring, this was a play for us, about our artistic culture. The fact that some of our most popular cultural exports – such as The Wiggles and Bluey – are kids' entertainers, makes the play resonate even more.

The performances were spot on. The singing sent shivers down hundreds of spines simultaneously, and the jokes made everyone crack up. Special shout-outs to Amber McMahon who brought each of her supporting characters to quirky, perfect life, and to Dave Eastgate, whose Ron Delbridge was the ocker, Gen X foil to the Gen Z band’s irreverence.

The whole play was framed by excellent, understated lighting design that hugged and mirrored each act without distracting from the performers themselves. The beating heart of the musical, very aptly, was the live orchestra behind the stage curtain. Rather than being hidden, this places them at an equal height to the other performers.

'Bananaland' has a very limited run. Get out and grab your tickets now, so you don’t miss out!

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