Urinetown review - October 2014

I think Mr Brecht really would be proud of this theatrical work of art!

Every non-theatre going friend or acquaintance I have has inquired as to what on earth this “wee” play in the West End is! Little Sally self-referentially remarks “Urinetown?! Really? What kind of a show is that?” and I can see why the general public may be somewhat perturbed, however I really REALLY hope this doesn't stop them going to see this genuinely fantastic, if somewhat gruesome, new musical.

It goes to show that different people have different tastes but I personally LOVE this modern style of almost Brechtian moral theatre. Urinetown, set in a dystopian future in which the water supply has almost dried up and people have to pay to pee, pokes fun at itself, its characters and the theatrical form in general. It is cleverly written by Greg Kotis who provides the audience with laughs whilst subtly raising awareness for socio-eco issues such as sustainability. Here high brow intent is mixed with a seemingly lowbrow delivery to create something genuinely very interesting.

The cast are superb and relatively unchanged from their earlier run at the St James Theatre, with the main change being that Matthew Seadon –Young has been “bumped up” to the role of Bobby Strong… and (said whilst generally cooing) what a Bobby STRONG he is (those arms!) Seadon – Young proves his worth with fabulous soaring vocals and genuine comic timing.

Easily my favourite stage actress of the moment, Jenna Russell (read about her in my Mr Burns review here,) was absolutely standout as the tame and ultimately likable villain, Penny Wise. Russell has proved time and time again that she is an amazing singer and character actress and above all is totally watchable! As in I found I just couldn’t stop watching her!

I personally found some of the music in the show an absolute treat, with the obvious stand out number being Run Freedom Run, which I may be singing forevermore. I loved the sense of play in the delivery of the song as Bobby turned the cast into a kind of gospel choir, creating holy sounds amid their hellish environment. Title song “Urinetown” was a spooky joy too and I enjoyed the play on words as “Urinetown” sounds a lot like YOU ARE IN TOWN when sung. Applicable.

The use of a narrator and various moments of caricature serve to distance the audience from the action. Similarly the juxtaposition of mood and content (“why are the lyrics so sad but sung to such a jaunty tune” enquires Little Sally) serves to render the piece a whimsical romp through a serious issue, which I felt heightened the lasting impact. Yes I was thoroughly entertained, yes I was thoroughly disturbed. I left the theatre singing about wee and freedom, but at the same time I began to ponder sustainability. I think Mr Brecht really would be proud of this theatrical work of art!

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