Urinetown review: ‘impressive’

By Kathryn Tann

Urinetown, unconventional to say the least, tells the story of a post-drought dystopian world in which “to pee is a privilege,” making urination an expensive business. It is a musical that poses a challenge for any production team willing to take it on, but one which DULOG have of course fully embraced with their usual professionality and flair.

Prepared by the plentiful supply of urine-related puns which featured in Urinetown’s enthusiastic publicity, I arrived anticipating a show full to the brim (or indeed, the seat) with toilet humour. What I didn’t expect was quite how often the audience was to burst out in uncontrolled cackling, as a result of a witty script being made even wittier by some superb execution.

Charlie Keeble should, of course, be commended for his part in creating such an enjoyable show. He rightly highlights the importance of parody in Urinetown in his director’s note, and it can be agreed that this intention to present the show “stripped back” to these “original parodic elements” has certainly been a worthwhile one.

Choreographer Rosie Dart was clearly aware of these various nods to famous musicals and did a fantastic job of bringing out that parodic element. Though Urinetown may not be famous for its dancing, DULOG managed to inject energy and vibrancy into their production, showcasing an impressive range of styles and generally hitting moves with a precision you might not expect from such a short rehearsal period.

Lighting also made clear and creative distinctions between numbers, though there were occasional moments of awkwardly-lit cast members. This may be the product of typical first-night blips, and overall the visual spectacle worked well with the action onstage.

Officer Lockstock (Joe McWilliam) played another important part bringing out the comic parody of Urinetown which was essential to Keeble’s vision. Justice was certainly done to the character through McWilliam’s hilarious performance; however, his cool approach was sometimes in danger of allowing certain lines to be lost in through subtlety.

But it was Mrs Pennywise and Mr Caldwell who completely saturated the show with their unceasing and brilliantly farcical characterisations. Andrew Shires’ cartoon-like demeanour (as soon as someone mentioned Mr Burns from the Simpsons, I couldn’t see him in any other way!) and Lily Edwards’ unforgettable facial expressions almost stole the show, and the pair became positively outrageous during their brief moments of interaction with each other.

The stage and set found effect in sheer attention to detail. The visual experience began even before one entered the theatre, with jars of ‘urine’ littering the Assembly Rooms’ front steps, and loo roll draped along the bannisters. I found my seat amongst similar decorations, whilst members of the cast wondered around the aisles keeping character for an impressively long time. This pre-show was assisted by the decision to make added use of the lower section of the Assembly Rooms stage, as it allowed for an easy disposal of that fourth wall. It also provided levels for what was some excellent blocking throughout the show, however, one might add that even with the added space there were some moments, particularly during certain numbers, when the cast were stepping on each other’s toes somewhat.

It was also a slight shame that the brilliant band felt so far away, as the stage extension meant they were hidden behind the stage, though this was likely unavoidable. Nevertheless, Musical Director Becca Rickwood should be congratulated for meeting the demands of a show which certainly doesn’t trade in musical complexity for comedy. There were a number of truly memorable moments, such as ‘Urinetown’ (which made for a brilliant vocal finale in its reprise) and of course ‘Run, Freedom, Run!’ – a number which brightened the stage with an impressive combination of precise harmonies and colourful choreography.

Throughout both acts, the highly talented chorus dealt admirably with these challenging vocals, along with often quite demanding choreography. As is usually the case with DULOG, the professionality of its cast maintained the show’s vibrant momentum throughout, with some of the best comedic one-liners being delivered to perfection by ensemble members. Jasper Millard (playing Bobby Strong) and Sophie Allen (Hope Cladwell) should also be congratulated for grasping the unique comedy of the show wonderfully from beginning to end.

Indeed, Urinetown’s light-hearted self-awareness and ‘take-the-piss’ attitude (yes, the puns continue) was its greatest charm. DULOG met a far-from-average show with what was undeniably a far-from-average performance. Urinetown is the ideal release from summative stress, and I would highly recommend going to see it if you fancy a good giggle. Although I must admit, by the end of the show I couldn’t help but need the loo…

‘Urinetown’ will be performed in the Assembly Rooms Theatre from Thursday, 9th March to Saturday, 11th March at 19:30. Book your tickets here.

Photograph: DULOG

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