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REVIEW: Urinetown – The Musical at Newcastle College

Urinetown – The Musical
Newcastle College Peter Sarah Theatre
Until Saturday 25th May 2019

Music & lyrics: Mark Hollman
Book & Lyrics: Greg Kotis

Followers on social media will appreciate that we love Urinetown. It is funny, has memorable songs and some brilliant lines. So, when we discovered that the students at Newcastle College were going to perform it, we knew we’d have to buy tickets.

It was also clear by the comments overheard from members of the audience, at the interval and end of the show, that we were in the minority and a number were seeing it for the first time. It is a idiosyncratic little piece, but it won numerous awards during its run on Broadway for a reason. The big surprise for us is that it hasn’t become better known on this side of the pond.

So what is this musical with an awful title about? Imagine a town that has suffered droughts. There is a need to conserve water and so a large monopolising corporation, the Urine Good Company (UGC) was set up by megalomaniac Caldwell B. Cladwell (James Hardy) with support from politicians like Senator Fipp (Courtney Munro). Together they charge high fees to visit the toilet, and have harsh penalties for those who go in the bushes which are policed by the likes of the show’s narrator Officer Lockstock (Connie Handyside-Cook) and their sidekick Officer Barrall (Ailsa Bennett).

Act one alternates between the offices of the UGC, where Cladwell’s daughter Hope (Steph Crewe) has completed her studies at the world’s most expensive university and has started work faxing and copying at the UGC, and one of the company’s toilets. She quickly sees how the sycophantic employees, such as Ms McQueen (Rebecca Burgon), adore her Dad. In contrast, the toilet is located in one of the poorest parts in town. People are struggling to raise the cash in order to be able to pay a visit to the loo. The wc is operated by Penelope Pennywise (Gabrielle Fletcher), assisted by the hero of the piece Bobby Strong (Alex Mailen).

The show opens at the public amenity where the queue is forming. Bobby’s Dad (Aaron Hastings) needs the loo but has insufficient funds.  This gives the production the chance, though the conversation between narrators Officer Lockstock and Little Sally (Olivia Wrathmail) to set out the exposition. Throughout the show, these exchanges are very witty. Using references to the format of musicals, they flag up the ridiculousness of the format. It took a while for tonight’s audience to pick up on the humour, which is a shame as there are some great lines in the opening exchanges, but there were some big laughs in the second act. Perhaps the audience were not expecting a comedy?

This is a production of Newcastle College’s students and there have been some interesting casting decisions. Previous productions have had male actors in the police roles and I was interested how it would work with the gender reversal – and do you know what? It did work. Thanks to the stage presence of Connie Handyside-Cook, and her eyes, she is able to own this pivotal role. Lockstock and Barrel have a menacing role in maintaining the mystical place Urinetown, which is were the offenders of the water control regulations end up. Their delight of the work comes out in The Cop Song in which they are supported by Mia Taylor, Becca Nesham and Amy Nolan.

Urinetown is also a love story. On her way to her first day at work Hope gets directions from Bobby Strong and over the duration of act one the pair hit it off, even though they lead very different lives. The chemistry between Hope Cladwell and Alex Mailen actually came across better than one of the professional productions I had seen in London. The sub-plot is important to holding the balance in show. Alex also did well with the talented ensemble in the big number in act two Run Freedom Run.

The big number in act one, which puts a lot of demands on the singing capabilities of the actor, is It’s A Privilege To Pee in which toilet owner Pennywise literally sets her stall out. Gabrielle Fletcher coped very well with the range demanded and she is someone to watch for the future.

The songs were accompanied by a small live band, situated on the side of the set, conducted by James Robert Hedges. Their output felt very close to the cast recording which gets regular play in my car.

Mention should also go to the rest of the ensemble who dramatise and dance their way through the show as both UGC staff and poor customers of Public Amenity number 9. Their energy and pace helped glue the show together.

We love Urinetown and these college students did not let us down with this rare appearance in the North East for one of the quirkiest new musicals.

Hail Malthus!

Review by Stephen Oliver

ENSEMBLE - Newcastle College MT 2018-2019
Peter Sarah Theatre
Newcastle College
23rd May 2019
24th May 2019 - 2PM & 7PM
25th May 2019 - 2PM & 7PM
Ticket Prices -
Adults : £5
Concession : £2

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