Have you ever been out and about and just found no public conveniences available except for the slightly dodgy pay-per-use bathrooms in train stations? Greg Kotis experienced such a dilemma when travelling through Europe, which inspired the concept behind Urinetown, subsequently co-written with Mark Hollmann.
As characters in the show openly admit, Urinetown isn’t a musical with the most appealing name or concept around. In a future where demand for water far outstrips supply, a terrible drought has struck the city. After the dreadful ‘Stink Years’, the water shortage situation has reached the point where private toilets are banned and everyone must pay to use the public urinals that are owned and operated by Caldwell B. Cladwell’s ‘Urine Good Company’. The rich can afford the nice loos, but the poor of the city queue up daily to use the city’s grimiest bathroom, Amenity #9, run by Penelope Pennywise and her janitorial assistant, young Bobby Strong.
The St. James Theatre in central London is the host for the UK premiere of Urinetown, a show that was first staged in New York in 2001. We chose the front-row seats that came cheapest at £27.50 but didn’t expect to be quite so close to the action as we were, as the edge of the stage came right up to our feet and we were often staring the cast straight in the face. However, those Row C seats are well worth it if you’re aiming for a lower price bracket and wouldn’t be fazed by ‘Urinetown’ and ‘It’s a Privilege to Pee’ being belted out in fairly close proximity.
…bringing an element of pantomime…
Soutra Gilmour’s dark and dank split-level set design perfectly set the tone at Amenity #9 as Officer Lockstock and Little Sally welcomed the audience to Urinetown, ‘the musical, not Urinetown the place…’ and warned us of the dangers of ‘Too Much Exposition’. Lockstock and Sally frequently broke the fourth wall throughout the show, bringing an element of pantomime as the show affectionately sent up the musical theatre art form. Richard Fleeshman and Rosanna Hyland were both particularly good as the wonderfully earnest Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell. Jenna Russell, Simon Paisley Day and Karis Jack were also fantastic, but in truth it’s hard to pick standouts, as the entire cast was absolutely excellent.
Darkly funny, Urinetown shows us a vision of the future that leaves you feeling slightly unsettled every time you walk past a public bathroom. There are really too many bathroom-related puns to choose from, but whatever your feelings about toilet-themed musicals, urine for a splashing good time at the St. James Theatre.