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Review: Banana Crabtree Simon at BackDock Arts

Review by Sarah Skubala

 

David Hendon’s critically acclaimed play Banana Crabtree Simon is in Brisbane for a very short season after a successful run at Sydney Fringe Festival in 2023 where it was nominated for Best in Theatre.

 

Alan is only 50 years old, yet he’s started behaving in ways that have his wife concerned. He reluctantly agrees to visit the doctor, just to be sure. Banana Crabtree Simon explores one man’s struggle with early onset dementia and the way it affects those around him. Banana Crabtree Simon premiered at the Drayton Arms Theatre in London in 2018, where it was nominated for several Offies (the Off West End Theatre Awards) including Best New Play and Best Actor.

 

Banana Crabtree Simon offers a rare, first-hand account of a person slowly succumbing to dementia. This is achieved especially well as a one-man play, as we see, through the passing of time, Alan’s cognitive decline and some of the classic stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, all from Alan’s point of view. It is an especially effective way to empathise with Alan’s journey.

 

Although the subject matter is heavy and confronting, there are plenty of moments of humour, warmth, and humanity. In a one-man play, there is no fourth wall, so the audience becomes the other character. But nothing is required except your listening skills. The intimate space in BackDock Arts’ black box theatre is the perfect venue; it feels very comfortable, like a series of extended conversations on the couch with a cup of tea. 

 

Short jazz interludes helped break the play into scenes with quick costume changes showing the passing of time, and the shedding of each layer of clothing perhaps also representing another part of Alan disappearing.

 

In the character of Alan, CJ de Mooi found his thoughts very believably; there was no thought that came out of nothing. His use of silence worked exceptionally well to draw the audience into the story, and his pacing was expert. This is an actor well in control of his craft. The scenes concerning the missing money were particularly heartbreaking and demonstrated just how scary and isolating dementia must be. The play’s creative team, including Director Dan Phillips, have seen seasons together in London, Edinburgh, Hollywood and now Australia, and it shows. It is a riveting piece of theatre.

 

In 2024, there are estimated to be 421,000 people living with all forms of dementia, and it is the leading cause of death in women (source: Dementia Australia). It is probably true to say we all know someone who has passed away from the disease. Good theatre opens us up to experiencing different perspectives that we may not have been aware of or contemplated. Banana Crabtree Simon achieves this in 70 minutes.

 

There’s no need to head over to London to see great theatre; it’s here, right now, in our city. There are only two more chances to see Banana Crabtree Simon, and with tickets cheaper than a movie, it is worth making time for this Easter weekend.


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