Bill O'Neill @ Pleasance Courtyard

The Amazing Banana Brothers: it's deranged, it's anarchic, and it's infused with the spirit of play

Review by Emma Sullivan | 16 Aug 2023
  • Bill O'Neill

The Amazing Banana Brothers are bully boy Kevin Calamity, and his little brother, Joey Insanity. Their act: ‘1000 slips or your money back’. Kevin has been chasing The Prestige, the banana slip to end all banana slips, all his life, but tonight tragedy strikes, and Joey must keep the show on the road alone.

Bill O’Neill’s unnerving and rather dazzling debut is directed by Natalie Palamides, best known for Netflix special Nate and her Edinburgh Best Newcomer win in 2017. Her involvement here is evident – especially in the preoccupation with consent, and the question of how far you can push an audience beyond their comfort zone. Quite a long way, it turns out, in the hands of someone as skilful as O’Neill. It’s easy to disregard the mastery when the whole thing seems such a deranged, anarchic mess (amplified by the fever pit venue that is Beside), but that’s the deceptive nonchalance of good clowning.

What O’Neill pulls off borders on the magical: two brothers where there’s obviously only one man, and big emotions even when the whole scenario is utterly absurd. It could hardly be more ludicrous, but alongside the hilarity, Joey’s struggles provoke affection, sadness and shock. The volatility of the set-up is a key part of our immersion: we’re perpetually on the edge of our seats – nervous about the chaos, and bug-eyed at the excess. But as with Nate, the excess (and it does feel like a whole new front in audience participation) is in the service of something important – working against the entrenched resistance to displays of masculine vulnerability and affection.

Sometimes edgy, even sinister, but this comic study in brutal fraternal bonds is sweetened by Joey’s sensitivity, and thoroughly infused with the spirit of play.

Bill O'Neill: The Amazing Banana Brothers, Pleasance Courtyard (Beside), until 27 Aug, 10pm, £11-£12