Question: How to put on a musical with fully produced and choreographed numbers, a medium-sized cast and brilliant and perfectly executed dance routines in a space not much larger than your living room? Answer: Use every inch of the theatre and fill it with superb, beautifully timed, highly nuanced individual performances, whilst crashing through the 4th wall both figuratively and literally, all to triumphantly successful effect.
Set in a dystopian future where ecological disaster has led to a totalitarian states in which all use of toilets is centrally controlled by the dastardly UGC, or Urine Good Company, Old Joint Stock Musical Theatre Company’s Urinetown satirizes large multinational companies, as well as environmental activists and musicals themselves. The story features the downtrodden population of a community, whose lives revolve around Public Amenity #9, and the endless struggle to scrape together enough money just to use the toilet. Failure to comply with the strict laws set by UGC, and enforced by officers Lockstock and Barrel, (Richard Haines and Roddy Lynch), results in being carted off to the mysterious Urinetown, from where all offenders never return. Set against this is the hopelessly naïve and innocent Hope (Mairead Mallon), daughter of the head of UGC, Caldwell B Cladwell (Karl Steele). In the face of fee hikes, the tension boils over and the locals, led by Bobby Strong (Brad Walwyn) declare revolution and that they will now pee for free.
Having taken Hope hostage, and with the rebels baying for her blood, Bobby realises that the only chance of keeping Hope – who he has fallen in love with – alive, as well as himself, is to meet with Cladwell and his cronies before they are surrounded and all sent to Urinetown.
The plot plays out in an entirely predictable (although this is the point) yet hysterical fashion, with every cliché and archetype being satirized mercilessly by this wonderful company of actors.
Looking for standout performances in such a spectacular display of character acting is extremely difficult. All of the principals offered huge, sometimes ridiculous, but highly polished and precociously skilled turns in their respective roles. Haines’ Officer Lockstock who doubled up as the narrator was excellent at breaking the fourth wall between scenes in a way that kept the audience laughing all night. His dramatic delivery and “smell the fart” acting were a delight, as it was for the entire cast.
Karl Steele’s Cladwell was frankly ridiculous – a compliment of the highest order – and you will rarely see a more expressive actor on any stage. The two young leads also gave wonderful performances, worthy of any professional theatre.
Where this production really excels is the use of the whole company in such a small space. Each and every performance was thought out to the last detail, and was perfect, even less than a foot away from the audience. The dance numbers were exciting – OJSMTC have a skilled corps of multiskilled dancers – all the while maintaining pitch perfect harmonies. The lighting plot and set design worked extremely effectively in the space and added to the eerie, dystopian atmosphere.
Theatre at the Old Joint Stock is fast becoming synonymous with quality, and Urinetown does not disappoint. It’s a privilege to see.
Urinetown runs at the Old Joint Stock Theatre from 28 July – 6 August.
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