Imagine a world where you have to pay to go to the toilet. Well if you’ve paid a visit to any public toilet in the London area, you’ll be familiar with the concept, but Urinetown (the musical, that is) is on a whole different scale. And in this new London production by man of the moment Jamie Lloyd, there’s a lot to be enjoyed about the experience.
Conceived by Greg Kotis, Urinetown is a real ensemble piece that focuses on a team of toilet-goers who decide to rebel against Urine Good Company in an effort to regain control of their urination location. Fighting against a world where peeing in a bush gets you a one-way ticket to Urinetown, the rebels are led by loveable geek Bobby Strong, while arch enemy Caldwell B. Cladwell and his team of bureaucrats do everything they can to stop the disruption.
If there’s one thing to bear in mind when going into the Apollo theatre, it’s that you’re not in for a conventional evening. With more than a splattering of blood (more like buckets…) and a self-awareness that means the fourth wall is broken throughout, it’s not your typical West End musical. But it knows its audience and plays to them, with a darkness to the comedy that means that despite the lack of a happy ending you come out feeling ready to go back for another helping.
In part, this is the result of a strong cast – many of whom have transferred to the Apollo from St James Theatre where this production started. As Caldwell B. Cladwell, Simon Paisley Day is a menace that’s part suited banker, part psychotic cowboy; Jenna Russell has more than her fair share of the comedy as Penelope Pennywise, the attendant at public amenity #9; and Matthew Seadon-Young as Bobby Strong is the muscular geeky hero that you can’t help but route for. And props have to go to Jonathan Slinger whose dry delivery as the narrator Officer Lockstock was spot on.
Musically, it’s surprising what a delight Urinetown is. Mark Hollman’s score is uplifting and heavily influenced by gospel. As with the book, the music is a real ensemble piece and that only adds to the vibe – whether singing about murder or bladder control, this is toe-tapping material, and the cast never fail to look like they’re loving every second. And so were the audience at the performance reviewed – while it was intentionally milked, the reaction at the end of ‘Run, Freedom, Run’ sounded more like it was in an arena than a relatively humble-sized theatre.
In fact, matched with choreography by Ann Yee and Richard Roe that is just as frenetic, the music grabs you from the start, takes you on a journey, and almost makes you wish you were up there fighting for your right to pee as well. (Side note, I almost was fighting for the right to pee in the Apollo toilets – one of the less adequate facilities in a West End theatre I’ve come across.)
The finishing touch in this really is the set design by Soutra Gilmour – it’s grimy and grubby, and combined with Adam Silverman’s lighting design, almost gothic in its tone. Never too complicated, it’s a perfect match for the story, combining a claustrophobic feeling with not so subtle signage (‘Secret hiding place’) that’s every bit as self-aware as the musical itself, and there’s a nice use of the revolve to ensure that it never feels too static.
A great transfer from over the pond that, if you open yourself up to it, will take you on a heck of journey and leave you wanting so much more. There’s a dark humour that’s not available anywhere else in the West End at the minute, plenty of gore, some catchy tunes and a solidly stupid storyline – all performed by a cracking cast. Get a ticket while it’s still around!
Urinetown is currently booking until 10th January 2015. Tickets can be purchased from the Nimax Theatres Website.
And the seat…
Stalls, row M, seat 14. A more than adequate view with a decent incline meaning there’s minimal disruption from the head of the person in front. Legroom was quite limited for a stalls seat, but was more than passable (I’m 6’0″) and I’d happily sit here again. One thing to bear in mind – the seating plans for this theatre online are no longer accurate, as the central aisle has been removed, meaning seats 12 and 13 are now in the middle of a row rather than being on the end.