Banana Hut Gang: Choose Your Own Improv
Banana Hut Gang is an improv group consisting of Alex Magliaro, Chris Warner, James Stone, Jess Rogers, Jonny Scott, Laura Capaldi, and Sam Pearce. I’d tell you who the lead is but there’s 6/7 chance I’ll be wrong, depending on when you see it.
I was treated to Sam Pearce as our protagonist and he did not disappoint. He starred as Simon, the flamboyant stage manager at Nuts & Bolts (the robot burlesque show), who came out of the womb ‘slightly dancing’, and had to defeat the aliens in ‘Shake Your Feathers at the Aliens, Baby’.
As you might be able to tell, we were spectators to a sci-fi themed show, as picked out by audience members. Flamboyant, and I mean flamboyant, Simon, started the story in his childhood bedroom. The audience pick the ‘book’ and decide Simon’s fate as we tag along his journey. The cast were expert at making the audience feel included – you really feel a part of all the in-jokes that recur throughout the show.
At random opportunities a cast member will present Simon with two options, which we, the audience, decide between. You can hit a dead end, as we did, and flashback to the last choice you collectively made – hilarious and also remarkable, as the actors then had to redo the story from where they left off, revisiting characters, scenes, accents, and for us – robot dance routines.
The characters the cast devise for themselves and each other on a whim are truly colourful and each worthy of a plot in themselves. From Simon’s trusty robot dancers, Bee-Bop and Bee-Ready, to the evil alien brothers ‘The Zorgs’ with spikes for hands, every character had the audience cracking up as they were introduced.
As with all improv, it takes a few scenes to really get to know the characters, and for the cast to ease into it, but once they’ve found their feet, the plot moves at a brilliant pace, and you really care for the protagonist and his quest, despite perhaps voting for the most nonsensical things to happen to him. The cast really started to own their mistakes more as they progressed too – resulting in some of the funniest moments. Especially as later on, we forced a lot of rhyming – a callback to one of our earlier, more difficult choices.
With numerous narrative devices, Banana Hut Gang keep the audience and the story on its toes. At times there were 2 narrators escalating the plot between them, each twisting the story into something preposterous, and demanding the actors keep up. Littered throughout were flashbacks, flashforwards, and comedy cutaways galore – which were by far my favourite scenes, with the whole cast charging the stage to transition into a hilarious and ridiculous flashback, then running and spinning into exactly where they left the scene before. There was even an action slo-mo section as the play climaxed, which had the audience in stitches. To keep the plot at a healthy pace, the actors who weren’t in the scene could run across and announce the scene to be ‘20 minutes later, on the bus’ for example, and skip them onto the bus they were waiting for. This useful and necessary device kept the comedy flowing and progressed the story nicely.
A brilliant flow of leading and following, this stellar cast really gel to make each scene dynamically perfect. No one tried to force themselves in where the scene didn’t call for it – although I will say I’d have liked more of the small background ‘extras’ as they were often the funniest people to watch in the scene. It took a lot to break the cast and make them laugh, but when they did it was for good reason, and caused the audience to absolutely lose it too.
Sam was a confident leader of the group for our show, brilliantly calling back to earlier jokes and scenes. He always had a witty response without missing a beat, whilst keeping in flawless, flamboyant character. One of my favourites was the Brotherhood of Robots complaining that Bee-Bop had brought a human along, saying “You’ve brought an organic!” to which Simon instantly, and flamboyantly, replied “and what an organic!” – what an organic indeed.
In fact, my notes are just full of absurd quotes and amusing things people said throughout the show, like a catalogue of in-jokes only Wednesday’s audience would understand.
It’s easy to see how this show would be completely different every night – I’d go back and see it every night if my cheeks had stopped hurting from the night before.
If you’re on the fence about seeing it – take it from Zorg – “It’s going to be fun – there’ll be food…and robot dancers”. Except replace food and robot dancers with the two most demented things that pop into your brain, because with this one – you control the story.
Review by Mims Melville
Banana Hut Gang is on at Greenside @ Infirmary Street at 17:10 on the 21-24th August.