At Repertory Theatre
A one-woman show by Joana Simmons
Friday, February 19
Reviewed by Paul Brooks
The first thing evident at Repertory Theatre on Friday, February 19, was ... not your usual Repertory audience.
There were lots of younger people, some wearing interesting, colourful clothing, reminiscent of hippydom and the psychedelic era.
There were older folks too, most there because they know or have known Joana Simmons when she was here in Whanganui at school, or dancing on stage under the direction of Sharyn Underwood, perhaps, but they were not at Repertory to see Joana Simmons: they were there to see Banana Jolie in a show called Spiritual Banana.
She hit the stage dancing — boy! Can she dance! — and the energy never subsided throughout the hour-long show. Joana — sorry, Banana, complete with real banana prop, banana earring and banana references in the monologue — took us on a trip personal, manic, introspective and funny, making observations, telling truths and being very much "out there".
With the help of expert technical people, her timing was perfect, allowing lighting changes and sound effects to arrive bang on time and often to spectacular effect.
How she managed to execute all those dance moves and still have enough breath to deliver her monologue was impressive, as was the ability to memorise the show, every cue, every mark and still invite and make good use of audience participation.
The show was mostly fast-paced — sometimes a little too fast for this old codger — but there were moments when things slowed and the atmosphere changed with the lighting.
Banana Jolie got plenty of laughs, but those other moments were of reflection and, in one part at least, verging on pathos, and that is where Joana shone through her alter-ego.
Of course there was plenty of personal history throughout but she deflected much of it with references to religion and the occasional chat with God (again, great lighting and sound!).
Or she'd pick up her guitar and sing, even if the guitar slipped out of tune — what the hell, incorporate it into the act and add a little impromptu humour.
Then, when it was all over, the first thing she did was thank the audience, even though she did all the work, then waited by the door to deliver sweaty hugs to all. There was no shortage of takers.
Joana Simmons as Banana Jolie was smart, clever, funny and probably the most energetic person I have ever seen on stage.