Urinetown at the Apollo Theatre
Last week I managed to catch Jamie Lloyd’s production of Urinetown in its lovely new West End home in the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. Having originally seen the show when it was cosily housed in the lovely St James Theatre, I was keen to see how it has fared during its big move. AND BY GEORGE IT’S GREAT I TELL YA.
Whenever one tells a (non theatrey) pal you’re off to see a show called Urinetown, the reaction is always one of total bemusement, and tbf it’s not the most CLASSIC subject matter for a show. The story is set in a dystopian future where humankind has desecrated water supplies, so everyone has to pay to use the toilets, now all privately owned by big businesses. If you’re caught relieving yourself anywhere else, you’re arrested and taken off to Urinetown, which we quickly discover is a euphemism for meeting your grisly end at the hands of the merciless police force.
So yeah, environmental issues, the danger and corruption of big corporations, the oppression of the poor, and I mean,(well, let’s call a spade a spade) human excrement are the ideas at the heart of the show. But it’s not as much of a downer as it sounds, I promise. The show is actually incredibly funny, lampooning a lot of musical theatre forms. Without putting too many people off, it’s actually kind of Brechtian in style, with it’s constant destruction of the fourth wall and embedding of moral implications . The show is totally self knowing, constantly referencing the show’s structure and subject matter. Indeed the opening lines set the tone, proclaiming “Welcome to Urinetown. Not the place of course, the musical.” Similarly, later on at the climax of the show when all hope seems lost for our heroes, spunky Little Sally (Karis Jack) notes that “when a little girl has been given as many lines as I have, there’s still hope!”
She’s accompanied in her narrative role by Officer Lockstock, played by a menacing (and BLOODY SEXY COR BLIMEY GUVNOR) Jonathan Slinger who swaggers and ‘mwohahaha’s’ his way around the plot. The imitable Jenna Russell is (as always) on top form as hacking and rasping Miss Pennywise. The hero of the piece, Bobby Strong was played at St James by the swoonsome Richard Fleeshman, but here, Matthew Seadon-Young admirably takes up the reins (oh and, btw MSY, your arms are so buff and you should totally try and steal that tight t-shirt when you finish ‘cos it is working for you mate). However, the real hero of the night is the watertight (HAH) ensemble, shuffling and stomping through the show looking like a Tim Burton-esque VISION.
Musically, the show is a total treat from start to finish. The score is epic, unusal and completely varied. In what other show would you find beautiful soaring ballads (‘Follow Your Heart’), big broadway song and dance numbers (‘Mr Cladwell’) a spiritual/protest mash-up (‘I See a River’) and gospel (the show-stopping ‘Run Freedom Run’).There’s even a totally unashamed nod to West-Side Story‘s ‘Cool’ in ‘Snuff That Girl’. Delish.
I won’t lob any spoilers your way, but suffice to say, the show continues to twist and turn all the way through to curtain down. It’s bizarre, brilliant, kooky, crude and provides much food for though amidst all the laughter. So, don’t be put off by the title, go grab a ticket. It’s like a lovely breath of fresh air amidst the jukebox musicals and west-end long runners!
Good luck Urinetown, you deserve a blooming good run in your new home.
With hearty thanks to Official Theatre.