When I told friends I was going to see ‘Urinetown’, I received one of two reactions. Either, “Really? What a horrible name for a show” from those that hadn’t seen it, or “You’re going to love it!” from those that had. It turned out that both groups were right.
‘Urinetown’ is a real mixture of contradictory features. As our narrator ‘Officer Lockstock’ (a wonderful performance by Jonathan Slinger) tells ‘Little Sally’ (Karis Jack) at the start – “this isn’t a happy musical” and its true it isn’t, but it has some of the happiest and catchiest tunes of any musical show I’ve ever seen – especially the rabble rousing “Run, Freedom Run” – and although there are wonderful dance numbers, there is also death, destruction and more blood flying about than a night out with Dracula and his mates. It describes itself as a political and social satire and yet it also sends out a strong and sensible message to those idealists for whom reality is an inconvenience to their plans.
Set in a future where a 20 year drought has crippled water supplies, the government has had to put in place draconian measures to conserve what little water there is, including the banning of private toilets. Citizens have to use, and more importantly pay for, public facilities which are owned by the Urine Good company (UGC) corporation, who are basically the ultimate proof of the folly of putting public services in private hands. Anyone caught not using the UGC facilities to relieve themselves, is arrested and shipped off to the mysterious “Urinetown” of the title, a place where many are sent but none return from.
Obviously the populace are unhappy with this, but when the UGC hike up the fees for the toilets, it’s the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Enter that staple of all musicals, a good looking, dashing, all American boy, in a form hugging tee-shirt, Bobby Strong (superbly performed by Matthew Seadon) to lead a rebellion of ‘Les Mis’ proportions against the tyrannical corporation. Add to the mix, Hope Cladwell (Rosanna Hyland) naïve and idealistic young daughter of UGC Chief Exec Mr Cladwell B. Cladwell (Simon Paisley Day in full panto villain mode) and we move into Romeo & Juliet territory. As Officer Lockstock says, “She has to fall in love with him, he’s the hero of the show” and that love is cemented in “Follow Your Heart” a lovely, very funny, duet between Bobby and Hope.
Does love conquer all? Can a big corporation be beaten by the ‘common man’? What is Urinetown? Is there a place where a person can stand (or squat) and pee freely? Does faith conquer greed? Is life fair? All of these questions are addressed in the show, and if this was a conventional musical, the audience would know the answers before Officer Lockstock puts down his book on the works of Malthus and dons his hat. But nothing about ‘Urinetown’ is conventional, and my advice would be to expect the unexpected and take nothing for granted, as the unfolding story is hilarious, gripping, surprising and, at times, jaw droppingly shocking.
The show recently transferred to the Apollo Theatre after a sell-out run at St James Theatre and is just simply marvellous. The sets are bleak – let’s be honest, public toilets and sewers are never going to be that cheery – but are really effective, and the cast use them so well to create the image of our fictional city. I particularly loved the elevated section with the glass floor so that Cladwell could look down on the ‘ordinary’ people.
The direction and acting couldn’t be faulted for any of the characters and I really want to single out Officer Lockstock who moved from genial narrator, usually interacting with Little Sally and reminding everyone that this is a musical and not real life, through lovely comedic moments with his sidekick, Officer Barrel (Nathan Amzi on excellent form) to being a vicious state sponsored bully-boy doing unspeakable nasty things, in the blink of an eye.
Speaking afterwards to someone from the theatrical world, he described the show as “Tim Burtonesque with a large dose of steam punk”. A bit highbrow for me, so I would end by saying it’s an irreverent, tongue firmly in cheek show that seems to have a distinct dislike of rabbits, a strong political message, and is not afraid to take the p***.
Get your tickets now – and remember to go to the toilet before you take your seat.
Review by Terry Eastham
The ripples of revolution are lapping the shores of the West End! URINETOWN, the satirical musical comedy that was a sold out splash hit at the St James Theatre will cascade into London’s West End to the beautifully refurbished Apollo Theatre.
Award-winner Jamie Lloyd (Richard III, The Commitments) directs this sharp-witted rampant riot of a show that tells the tale of a town about to burst; spending a penny can prove problematic in a place where the privilege to pee has a preposterous price tag. There is no such thing as rent free relief until our young hero Bobby Strong appears with more than a good set of pipes.
Sometimes all you need is a drop of a hope to save the world!
Nathan Amzi – Officer Barrel
Chris Bennett – Swing & Dance Captain
Katie Bernstein – Little Becky Two Shoes/Mrs Millennium
Alasdair Buchan – Swing
Marc Elliott – Mr. Mcqueen
Cory English – Old Man Strong/Hot Blades Harry
Madeleine Harland – Soupy Sue
Rosanna Hyland – Hope Cladwell
Karis Jack – Little Sally
Julie Jupp – Old Woman/Josephine Strong
Aaron Lee Lambert – Billy Boy Bill/Ugc Executive
Mark Meadows – Senator Fipp
Christina Modestou – Female Swing
Joel Montague – Male Swing,Fight Captain & Assistant Dance Captain
Jeff Nicholson – Tiny Tom/Dr Billeaux
Simon Paisley Day – Caldwell B Cladwell
Kane Oliver Parry – Robbie The Stockfish/Ugc Executive
Jenna Russell – Penelope Pennywise
Matthew Seadon-Young – Bobby Strong
Jonathan Slinger Officer Lockstock
Vicki Lee Taylor – Female Swing
Director Jamie Lloyd
Music and lyrics Mark Hollmann
Book and lyrics Greg Kotis
Production design Soutra Gilmour
Choreography Ann Yee
Lighting design Adam Silverman
Sound design Terry Jardine & Nick Lidster
Wig & hair design Richard Mawbey
Fight direction Kate Waters
Orchestrations Bruce Coughlin
Musical supervision & direction Alan Williams
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.45pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 3.00pm
Booking Until: 24th January 2015