Step into the cubicle of Urinetown, a dystopian future where private toilets have been abolished and the human race is on the brink of extinction. Lily German tells us how this absurdly-titled musical shows the audience the consequences of abusing the world’s water supply, the result of a devastating drought and the ludicrous extremes of what humanity has to go through to survive…and pee.
Urinetown is a fictitious and mythical place utilised by the UGC (Urine Good Company) to ensure conformity among those below the plutocracy. The tyrant dictator Caldwell B. Cladwell (Simon Paisley Day) makes his empire through his presidency of the water facilities and instilling fear amongst the majority of the population. The musical follows the young, benevolent character of Bobby Strong (Joel Montague) and his campaign against the UGC. This socio-political musical utilises narration as a way of commenting on ‘the musical’ as an art form. Officer Lockstock, played by RSC thespian Jonathan Slinger, acts as narrator whilst implementing punishment and sending criminals to Urinetown for their illicit behaviour of urinating in public. His performance holds duality, swaying from being sombre and macabre to laid-back and facetious.
Bobby Strong (Matthew Seadon-Young), Penelope Pennywise (Jenna Russell) and The Poor
The technical aspects of the show were near to flawless. The entire production was choreographed around ‘Public Amenity #9’ the spherical, centre stage set piece around which the whole performance quite literally revolves. This created a real fluidity as the actors moved seamlessly using the mechanically controlled platform to move around stage and transition from scene to scene. In particular, the Sound Design (Terry Jardine & Nick Lidster) gave the production a complete sense of immersion throughout. However, at times the sound lacked a sense of definition between the chorus and counterpoint melody and dialogue.
Urinetown has an enchantment-like monopoly on the audience. This is partially due to the impeccable cast and band. It was the performance of Jenna Russel, who plays Penelope Pennywise, that stood out on this particular night. Pennywise is the empress of ‘Public Amenity #9’. The character is thrillingly portrayed as a gutsy, outspoken and vivacious woman who serenades that ‘It’s a privilege to pee’.
Hope Cladwell (Rosanna Hyland)
The thoughts of the audience are succinctly put into words by the brazen character of Little Sally, when at the end of Act Two she demands “What kind of musical is this?” Urinetown gladly conforms to the typical expectations of musicals such as uplifting music, talented actors and musicians, impressive set design and of course, an element of romance. However, it also mocks and defies conventional ideas of the musical as an art form mostly through a the blatant commentary by Officer Lockstock directed at the audience. For example, Act Two begins “Well, hello there. And welcome – to Act Two!” This is a very musically charged, yet anti-musical production.
The complete unification between all elements in the show ensures the viewer is invested in the production, the relationships and woes of the cast from the very first monologue. The inspired setting, lurid pools of blood, cash confetti and helicopter torches bring the performance to life, whilst complimenting serious themes of exploitation, capital and social injustice. Urinetown is definitely a musical that I would see numerous times: it is an animated, satirical production that matches the squalor of a struggling population and the glamour of musical theatre exceptionally.
Officer Lockstock (Jonathan Slinger)
Unfortunately Urinetown closed on 3rd January 2015, presumably due to financial challenges. Let us hope this production is petitioned into a UK tour during 2015 for all to see.