Carla van der Sluijs, our Theatre Editor, reviews Just So Society’s impressive production of Urinetown.
Urinetown, directed by Ryan Hay and produced by Danielle Donnally, is the Just So Society’s latest production to hit the Byre Theatre. The storyline of the show is unusual, to say the least, as you may have gathered from its title. This satirical comedy takes place in a town that has notoriously suffered from terrible water shortages. To solve the issue, private toilets are banned and replaced by pay-per-use facilities, which are controlled by the greedy corporation UGC (Urine Good Company). Anyone unable to pay the hefty fees or caught urinating in public is arrested and shipped off to Urinetown: a supposedly terrifying place which haunts the citizens’ minds day and night. The show follows the people’s uprising against capitalist gluttony, whilst teasing out the mystery of what Urinetown actually is. Ryan’s production brings this quirky scenario to life with humour and thrill, whilst still alluding to the satire’s ominous undertones.
Performances were consistently strong and all vocals were very impressive. Particular mention should go to Jason Gallant as Officer Lockstock. When delivering the show’s narration, Jason was absolutely compelling to watch and he reeled in the audience immediately. He conveyed a strong, authoritative figure convincingly, whilst also having the gaiety to deliver moments of comedy. Often accompanying Lockstock was the intuitive young street urchin Little Sally, played by Rachel Brown. Rachel had a beautifully youthful quality to her vocals that evoked the innocence of her character. Caelan Mitchell-Bennett and Hanna Lawson as Bobby Strong and Hope Cladwell respectively played off each other well as the love-struck young couple that the audience was rooting for. The role of Hope’s father and corporation president Cladwell B. Cladwell was delivered expertly by Connor Powell. Connor successfully exemplified the satire of Urinetown with his hilarious performance and he had the audience constantly in stitches. The costumes worn by this talented cast should not go without mention, as they were consistently realistic and not one stood out as ill-suited. The attention to detail regarding the townspeople’s clothing was particularly notable.
Speaking of which, the chorus proved a powerful force on stage and their harmonies were simply beautiful. Routines were well-choreographed by Sarah Greenberg and the energy shone right through to the back of the auditorium. This was particularly the case in ‘Run Freedom Run,’ a catchy up-beat gospel number that made me want to get up and dance! Whilst they performed well as a group, moments of individual characterisation remained valuable to the show and contributed to its comedy.
The set was another stand-out feature of the production. The tall, scaffold structure filled the stage comfortably without making it feel over-crowded. Two levels (connected by a pair of precarious-looking ladders) were used effectively to convey the bigwigs of UGC standing high above the poor townsfolk. A sudden moment of running water from the taps of the public facility was remarkable, and showed the careful thought that had gone into the staging.
Unfortunately, first night nerves seemed to have made it to the tech box in particular as there were consistent technical errors. Sound levels were sometimes unbalanced, leaving differentiation between the performers’ volumes, and on occasion, I had to strain to hear them over the music. Microphones sometimes switched on partway through a solo or, in one instance, not at all. Though these issues were small and quickly resolved, they cropped up throughout the performance and sadly detracted from an otherwise polished production.
Despite this, Urinetown makes for a fantastic evening’s entertainment. The cast and crew created an exciting, fun-filled production, with an added sense of the sinister to question the musical theatre genre as a whole. This bold choice of show absolutely pays off.
STARS: * * * *
Carla van der Sluijs
Photo by Danielle Donnally