Review – Urinetown, St James Theatre

Friday 28 February 2014

e522d54d86cbbcd822cee9332597f35240b47b9aFrom the moment Phil first saw the St James Theatre’s urinals he has considered them the most stylish of any theatrical gentlemen’s powder rooms in London.

He is so impressed by the venue’s porcelain he once dragged a well known lady actor in with him for a peep, (after checking they were empty first of course). It’s a wonder that the theatre doesn’t take a tip from the show’s plot and charge for their use. Imagine the outrage and free publicity that would attract.

Urinetown is a “hilarious satirical comedy” Broadway musical (music by Mark Hollmann, lyrics by Hollmann and Greg Kotis, book by Kotis) set in a drought, which gets its British premiere after the wettest British winter since our last wettest British winter. The producers probably can’t believe their luck. Let’s hope they’re thanking the gay marriage bill.

A tycoon, Caldwell B. Cladwell (Simon Paisley Day) is getting rich having monopolised all the public toilets and operating a pay-per-pee system. The townsfolk are literally dying for a pee. Unfortunates who can’t afford the prices and relieve themselves elsewhere are brutally whisked away. Long frustrated queues form outside the loos. Female patrons will be reminded of the Old Vic.

But along with the stench in the air outside the filthiest urinal in town there’s also revolution, led by bathroom attendant Bobby Strong (Richard Fleeshman) who works for the toilet’s warden Miss Pennywise (Jenna Russell). Inbetween organising the Pee Tax Riots Bobby finds time to complicate the plot by falling for Cladwell’s daughter Hope (Rosanna Hyland).

A promising opening sees a fourth wall-breaking policeman Officer Lockstock (Jonathan Slinger) narrating, aided by Wee Little Sally (Karis Jack), a street urchin, constantly reminding us we are watching a musical so certain strictures must be followed; after this the show slowly goes down the pan. Apart from one politically incorrect laugh out loud calipers moment, it’s not nearly as funny as it should be, or indeed believes itself to be.

Jamie Lloyd‘s production is, err, nicely fluid and some of the songs are jaunty enough, especially the Act 2 gospelly “Run, Freedom, Run!” crowd-pleaser, given a rousing delivery by the supremely toned and vocally strong Fleeshman. Too many of the ensemble numbers are indistinct with lyrics lost in a miasma of muddy sound (this was a preview but you’d think audibility would be a priority).

There’s mildly amusing parodying of Les Misérables and possibly the riot shield wielding nods to the musical Billy Elliot (though this show predates it) and a rather awkward song about rabbits that skirts dangerously on the fringe of embarrassing. And whilst the themes of corruption, bureaucracy, corporate monopolies and especially revolution are topical and take the show off to an ending unexpected for the world of musical theatre, we found it impossible to warm to the show.

Soutra Gilmour has provided an impressive and grubbily atmospheric set complete with revolve. Despite the piss poor sound the cast is largely efficient and large, so it all looks rather expensive, suggesting they might have a transfer in mind. Judging by the reaction of this enthusiastic audience we wouldn’t rule it out.

Our personal relief arrived when it ended. It would be tempting to call it number twos and award its rating thusly, but ‘glass half empty’ is more appropriate.

For the record, Andrew, who splashed out to accompany Phil for this, still hasn’t visited the St James’ little boy’s room. How does he do it?



3 Responses to “Review – Urinetown, St James Theatre”

  1. Kerry Says:

    Oh, that’s disappointing. I like the music (I’ve never seen it but have listened to the OBC recording) and was looking forward to seeing it on stage.

  2. Deal J Says:

    I thought I might have spotted you leaving last night, I wasn’t sure at the time though!

    I didn’t know what to expect but really enjoyed the show, although I agree the “Bunny” song was embarrassing, especially given it’s for one of the main characters.

    And as lovely as the St James urinals are, their dreadfully weak hand-dryer desperately needs replacing!

  3. Glen Moranjie Says:

    Saw this (in the West End) on Tuesday 23 December – very interesting as the music was good and the plot doesn’t go where you expect it to. The morality is confused hence the show makes you think. Recommended.

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