With a name like Urinetown the last thing you would expect is subtlety; LUU Music Theatre Society’s production certainly lived up to that expectation. Despite mocking the genre of musical in general, there are few areas of society that escape the play’s scathing satire.
Set in a dystopia where an everlasting drought means you have to pay to pee, the play seems to follow the struggle of the poor against the ruling classes. After his father is arrested and sent to ‘urinetown’ for unlawful urination, Bobby Strong (Ronan Pilkington) leads a grass-roots uprising to reclaim the right to pee for free. His main opposition is the mega-corporation ‘Urine Good Company’ run by Caldwell B. Cladwell (James Lear). However, as Officer Lockstock states “this is not a happy musical”. When Bobby is also sent to urinetown, a not-even-thinly veiled metaphor for execution, it is his love interest Hope (Kara Fergison) who has to lead the masses. The play does end in liberal peeing, but also in mass death by dysentery.
The show was extremely self-aware, perfect for the Deadpool generation who are adept to meta-theatrical jokes. At no point did the script let you forget you were watching a musical, with its continuous parody of popular West End productions, whether mocking the benevolence of the underclasses in shows like Les Miserables, or ridiculing wider tropes such as the spontaneous love story and the villain’s song.
The design was simple yet set the tone for a dingy dystopian waste land. The few transitions played up to the hammed-up style of the play. The production was an ensemble piece without a weak link. Some of the best scenes were when the cast came together for numbers such as ‘Act One Finale’ and physical comedy moments like ‘The Cop Song’. Some of the comedic moments fell a little flat, but I would say this was due to the fast paced nature of the show, some of joke did jokes feel a little rushed. Any first night hiccups were easily forgotten by the next musical number.
This play is for the musical lover but also for the sceptics. Some of the jokes resonate most with those who wonder how singers maintain their breath during a long-held note, why the actors aren’t visibly out of breath after a dance number, or even ponder the over-simplified nature of the story line. Urinetown was subversive and used its comedy to touch on issues such as environmentalism, the ethics of big business, and the implausibility of pleasing everyone whilst maintaining a sustainable society. It fit well for a time where it feels like there are no clear-cut answers to our never ending societal problems. Much like Urinetown, our world feels so absurd we might as well sit back, have a laugh, and enjoy the song and dance.
Image Courtesy of Niall Unger/LUU Music Theatre Society