Spiritual Banana is filled to the brim with hip hop songs, rap, breakdancing, singing, interpretive dance, monologues, and yoga. It’s an eclectic controlled-chaos vignette-style show where Joana Simmons a.k.a. Banana Jolie takes us through her journey with faith and what faith means.
The set gives me witchy vibes, despite her Catholic background, with lots of candles on black cloth draped over various small tables and stools. I worry that for a solo show, filling the Random Stage at BATS Theatre would be a challenge, but Banana Jolie makes the space seem small. The audience in the front row are given signs like “CLOSED”, “EXIT”, and “NO CELLPHONES” – audience participation which comes when she asks “If only the universe could send me a sign!” For those of you who hate audience participation, not to worry, you’re in good hands with Banana Jolie.
The show is funny, ridiculous, and has lots of great moments. It doesn’t take the spiritual tools such as a singing bowl, tingsha bells, a wooden bowl full of water, and a silver goblet too seriously. At first, she blesses herself and the audience with the bowl of water, flicking at us from quite a distance, before drinking from it. The goblet is also a drinking water source, and the singing bowl is used at times to recentre Jolie and create calm. The show walks the great line of not offending whilst also making fun of.
One of my favourite moments is the bogan yoga session. The audience stands and participates in the yoga session with a bogan version of Banana Jolie, where she poignantly instructs us with digs at our white privilege and colonial history, ensuring we “breathe out your southern cross tattoo.” Other high-quality moments were her songs, one of which had the lyrics of “I like the way you worship, but can you back it up?” In the song “Doubtful Yuppies”, where she asks a member of the audience what they’re doubtful about. One person said “being straight”, and Banana Jolie goes on to sing about why love has to be in a binary. She is absolutely stumped however when she asks another audience member what he’s doubtful about and he responds with the mass of a neutrino, which is a subatomic particle. The audience knows, in this particular instance, we have won as she has no idea what this is – and to be fair, neither do I. An absolute trooper, Banana Jolie sings a song in gibberish to honour his doubt. I enjoy her commitment to the show, even when things don’t go to plan. That’s the spirit of Fringe.
Spiritual Banana navigates these questions of doubt and faith with a lot of sparkles, song, and dance. At one point, Banana Jolie asks us “Hey, how’s the show going? Does it make any sense?” and I have to be honest that it doesn’t. “Well neither does life!” she yells as she launches into more song and dance. Touché. However this point, which she semi-addresses in this way, is exactly what stops me from exclaiming the show is a wonderful and poignant piece of work. The theme of the show is clear, but the message is somewhat absent. It only becomes clearer at the very end, when she breaks down as she sends a text to her dying father in hospital from the other side of the world and wonders if it’s enough. The show’s message could be that faith is uniquely personal, and if it is, I would have liked to see this drip-fed throughout the show rather than lumped at the end.
Spiritual Banana is overall an extremely fun time and Joana Simmons is a talented and charismatic performer worth seeing. Tickets are available from the BATS website until the 16th of March.