Live Review: Kate Miller-Heidke & Keir Nuttall’s Newest Musical ‘Bananaland’ Is A Hit

22 September 2023 | 11:55 am | Emma Newbury

Stuck between a rock band and a hard place - Kate Miller-Heidke & Keir Nuttall’s newest musical ‘Bananaland’ is a hit.


Bananaland (Credit: Darren Thomas)

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If you live in Brisbane, chances are you’ve probably seen the split image of half-rosy-cheeked sweetheart, half-stud-lined goth star Max McKenna with the heading “Bananaland” up in fun fonts above it.

Credit: Darren Thomas

Bananaland, for us curious Brisbanites, is the newest musical to the QPAC Playhouse and one of the highlights of this year’s Brisbane Festival. The original musical is the brainchild of legendary muso couple Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall, with directing chops from the renowned Simon Phillips. The trio were previously credited for the 2017-2019 musical adaptation of Muriel’s Wedding, while Phillips has also carved out a name for himself on projects such as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and the Australian adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies

Like many creatives in the throes of COVID-19 times, Keir Nuttall decided to do practically the only thing that musicians were legally allowed to do during this time and began writing some new material. This brand-new musical certainly had many muses that contributed; for one, Bananaland is largely influenced by the many lockdowns and their choking effect on the Australian creative industries.

Credit: Darren Thomas

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While a lot of us sat bored in our rooms with nothing to do on a Saturday night, the creatives who light up the night - and our lives - were struggling to put food on the table. After all, what’s a star with no audience? Running alongside this concept was also the desire to peer into the mind of Nuttall’s three-year-old child, who spent a lot of lockdown time engulfed in The Wiggles

Nuttall’s writing, along with songwriting from both himself and Miller-Heidke, brings to life the story of the band Kitty Litter - a punk band, or as they insist - an onstage conceptual art/music-oriented happening. Led by the intimidating but ambitious Ruby Semblance (Max McKenna), the band has a desire to change the culture, and so forth the world.

Credit: Darren Thomas

With songs titled Consumerist Pig and Requiem For The Patriarchy In D Minor, you can imagine the surprise when this politically rebellious group of musos find that one of their dingy pub shows has completely sold out - and to none other than a bunch of under 5s. Their song Bananaland, a track criticizing Clive Palmer, has been confused for a kid’s song by Spotify’s algorithm. 

This turning point sequence of scenes is truly captivating and belly-rumbling as we watch supporting actor Dave Eastgate play a caricature of a “bogan” pub owner named Ron Delbridge who ends up getting swept up in the band’s dilemma of their off-brand fanbase. Stuck between a rock band and a hard place, Kitty Litter has to decide whether they continue to deliver their message through their unheard-of punk songs with only one fan, or pivot to promised popularity.

Credit: Darren Thomas

The Wiggles influence is certainly on the nose when you see the punk band transform in the second act to their G-rated alter-ego band, the Wikki Wikki Wah-Wahs. The brooding Ruby, along with her sister Karen and love interest Seb, swap their leather and platform boots for contrasting coloured overalls, while bandmate Ex (yep, that’s his name) dons a furry costume to become the lovable Dingles the Dog. The bassist and drummer, respectively named Terry and Terry, switch their black shades for sparkly rainbow ones.  

Credit: Darren Thomas

On par, if not more talented than the cast in terms of humour, is supporting actor Chris Ryan, who helps timeline the band’s success. From his performance as a James Blunt-wannabe opening for Kitty Litter to the Karl Stefanovic-inspired TV host debuting the success of the Wikki Wikki Wah-Wah’s, Ryan is sure to glitter the room in an uproar of laughs.

He also plays the Kitty Litter mega-fan Darren, giving a standout performance over a touching song about what draws us social outcasts with all our flaws to the comfort of a good song and an embracive crowd. Cue a tear or two if you dare. 

Credit: Darren Thomas

Darren’s song amps up the emotional turmoil for Ruby, who was already feeling like she had sold out and left her musical activism behind. The rest of the band is equally disorientated, coming to terms with their new lives and what this means for themselves and their families. Opera-trained actress Georgina Hopson plays older sister and young mum Karen, who sings a touching number earlier in the show about her son Toby, and we want to get up and hold her hand as she walks the tightrope between professional life and parenthood. 

Life imitates art imitates life, and we laughed and cried as Bananaland showed a lot of us creatives our own quandaries thrown back to us but in a better-dressed, well-versed way. This piece of work can teach us all a lesson about the chameleonism of not just creative pursuits but of growing up. Get down to The Playhouse this September to learn for yourself.