Edinburgh Fringe 2015
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland deliver an enjoyable production of this 2001 musical. Strong performances and good comedic timing are the order of the day. Though the message in the story is as relevant now as ever, much of the material feels dated.
In a fictional town in the future, everybody has to pay to urinate. The Urine Good Company (UGC) has control over the world’s water and private toilets have been banned following a twenty year drought. Anyone caught doing their business in public without paying to access a public facility will be sent to Urinetown, and will never return. Bobby Strong is the unlikely revolutionary trying to claim back to the right to pee freely, in a story that parodies the representation of love, greed and revolution in musicals.
Playing on both political and musical theatre conventions, the action in Urinetown switches between the outside of a public amenity, and the inside of a corporation’s headquarters. The set is somewhat confusing, apparently designed to look like the top of a toilet (complete with a giant moving handle used to indicate scene changes), with a pipe to the sewers built in.
This is an ensemble play, and each song and set-piece is superbly choreographed. The cast rarely put a foot wrong and vocally they’re all spot-on throughout. Joel Schaefer as Officer Lockstock showed perfect comedy timing when breaking the fourth wall and bantering with Little Sally (Jenny Douglas) – the device used to carry the story forward. Matthias Weisschuh was entertaining as the corrupt, yet vulnerable Senator Fipp, while Graham Richardson as Bobby Strong and Alicia Barban as Hope Cladwell shared a good comedic chemistry too.
There’s a real ‘laugh out loud’ moment at the start when Joseph Strong is arrested while doing his business against the drain pipe, but this is the only time that the laughs reach this level. The script is loaded with comedic moments and outright jokes, but much it felt dated, despite being first produced as recently as 2001. The songs are well performed, and although they’re parodies of musicals, they lack the wit or charm of more modern contemporaries such as the Book of Mormon or Avenue Q, and feel like they have been done to death.
The production values are first class, as you would expect from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Lighting changes are subtle and costumes are befitting of the setting. The fact the giant toilet handle was regularly moved was slightly bemusing however, appearing to serve little purpose other than to give the ensemble something to do in between scenes.
My experience was ruined to some degree by my seating position. I was in the third row, to the left of the stage, which I thought would have served as an excellent viewpoint. The nature of the play meant that my view to the action in the centre of the stage was often blocked by the ensemble. Several times the audience laughed heartily at a subtle character reaction or a movement that I could not see. There were times when parts of the set were moving and transforming, but I couldn’t see a lot of the action.
The audience received the show warmly. Aside from the aforementioned, there were no more laugh-out-loud moments, although there were constant low-key chuckles and grinning from most people.
Overall this is an strong production of a solid show. The message remains relevant, perhaps more now than ever, and this is an enjoyable, well-performed late-morning/early afternoon’s entertainment.