Basically it’s a musical about people paying to pee.
OK, so there’s more to it than that. In fact, there’s much more. I was recently kindly invited by my friend and the play’s producer Sharon MacInnes to the Gilly Archer Theatre at Bilborough Sixth Form College to see the second of a three night run of the musical, written by Mark Hollmann, which in turn is based on a book by Greg Kotis.
URINETOWN is a social and political satire set in a fictional future where a terrible 20-year drought has crippled the city’s water supplies. Water has become scarce and is controlled by Urine Good Company, it’s owner is Caldwell B. Caldwell (Ellie Mai Jackson)
The story is narrated by Officer Lockstock (brilliantly played by Lydia Messam)
who along with his partner, Officer Barrell (George Le Bond James), is responsible for enforcing the water laws. They make a great double act. “This is not a happy musical” Lockstock warns the audience. Lydia strikes up a great rapport with the audience during her narration and George backs her up with knowing nods and winks.
It was George and Murray Newbutt (Old Strong Man) that caught my attention the most pre-show. In-character & interacting with the audience was a great way to get to know the parts they were to play.
As the musical opens, a line of desperately poor people known collectively as ‘The Poor’ gather at Public Amenity #9,” the only public toilet still operating. Access to it is controlled by Penelope Pennywise (Fiona Kinsella), think of a strict midwife or a Mother Superior type, who tells The Poor, who are bent double and about to explode, (a common sight outside any ladies loos on a Friday and Saturday night) “If you gotta go, you gotta go”
A rebellion breaks out after Old Man Strong is caught relieving himself against a wall. His punishment? Obviously he is sent to Urinetown. His son Bobby Strong (Edward Turner) leads the revolt against the Urine Good Company and it’s owner Caldwell. To complicate things more he falls in love with Caldwell’s daughter, Hope, fantastically played by Emily Wilkins. Emily plays the part brilliantly and even though she’s gagged & chained to a wheelchair for a large part of the second act, she acts her role out with very convincing eye movements which speak just as loudly as her words.
Bobby and Hope fall in love but then the rest of his rebels convince Bobby that they should kidnap Hope and use her as a hostage in an effort to reduce the recently inflated “Pay to Pee” fees.
Obviously I won’t give away the ending but one of my personal favourites of the night had to be Little Sally who was played by Eleanor Carty. Eleanor has great facial expressions & fantastic comedy timing, often getting the biggest laughs from the audience.
But it was a brilliant all round performance from the whole cast. You could tell what it meant to them. The music itself probably isn’t that well known unless you’re a regular theatre goer but it certainly becomes an ear-worm once you’ve heard it. You couldn’t fault the vocal performances.
Bilborough Collage is clearly producing some great talent and I’m sure we’ll be hearing some of these names again in the not to distant future.
Words & Photos by Richard Newbold