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Urinetown, the musical (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Urinetown the Musical

Society: Festival Players

Venue: ADC Theatre, Park Street, Cambridge, CB5 8AS

Credits: By Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis

Urinetown the Musical

4 stars

Urinetown dates from 2001 and premiered in London in 2014. It was always a sharp political satire about climate change, drought and the bleak future. It’s also about power, draconian control of the population and absurdly unreasonable laws – all of which rings horribly true in 2023 when the pandemic is such a recent memory. Also in the mix is the greed of, and exploitation by, big business and its tendency to corruption. And it manages to deliver all that while also sending up the whole concept of musical theatre. Quite a piece – and it’s in excellent hands with Festival players and their director, Justin Murray.

In a cast with very few weak links, Holly Dawson is outstanding as Penelope Pennywise the fierce woman who controls the public facility which locals are forced to use now that it is illegal to have a WC in a private home or to pee behind a bush. She terrorises the poor folk who don’t quite have enough money, glares, invades body space and sings with real aggression. Later she softens, sings sweetly and, as before, communicates whole narratives with her eyes. She’s a talented performer.

Catriona Clarke has exactly the right feisty innocence as Little Sally and Matt Wilkinson brings lots of stage presence to Officer Lockstock who, as he tells us several times, also narrates. Eleanor Thompson is impressive as Hope Caldwell especially when she’s kidnapped by the revolution and has to communicate her terror from behind a gag which she sustains impeccably. In the ensemble, and as Little Becky Two Shoes, Frances Sayer does arresting things with her apparently rubber body and brings lots of passion to her sung interjections.

Of course there’s no such thing as Urinetown. We soon realise that it’s just a way of terrorising the population like a medieval religion. Actually anyone who contravenes the law by, for instance urinating anywhere other than in an expensive but horrible “facility” controlled ultimately by Cladwell’s company, is simply killed off. At one level it’s sinister stuff and this is imaginatively supported by Luke Marino’s smoky lighting and fluid, expressive choreography by Helen and Emily Garner.

The five-piece band, led by James Harvey on piano is partly visible upstage left and does a grand job especially in Wilkinson’s rap number and the gospel pastiche, Run, Freedom Run.

In short this take on Urinetown is one of the most accomplished and enjoyable non-professional shows I’ve seen in quite a while.

First published by Sardines



Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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