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REVIEW: Urinetown – The Musical at Newcastle College
– The Musical
College Peter Sarah Theatre
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
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
Review by Stephen Oliver
ENSEMBLE - Newcastle College MT
Peter Sarah Theatre Newcastle College
23rd May 2019
24th May 2019 - 2PM & 7PM
25th May 2019 - 2PM & 7PM