Urinetown was performed by Trinity Laban musical theatre students at Stratford Circus Arts Centre, London. This review refers to the cast at the Saturday evening performance.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
In many respects, Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’ Urinetown constitutes the perfect choice for a conservatoire production, requiring its cast to possess not just an intimate knowledge of a single work, but also a robust understanding of how the genre of musical theatre itself operates, as well as a keen grasp of a range of different styles.
Directed by Michael Howcroft, Trinity Laban’s production of the post-modern anti-musical projects a sense of good-natured humour in respect of the theatrical send-up, bringing out effectively the spoofing of some of Urinetown’s most illustrious historical antecedents.
Rebecca Wickes as Penelope Pennywise is afforded an opportunity to shine early in the evening, demonstrating effortless facility in the upper reaches of her vocal register.
Christian Andrews makes the stage his own thereafter through his characterisation of the larger-than-life Caldwell B. Cladwell, his elegance of movement being particularly striking.
Standing up admirably against Andrews’ villainous bureaucrat is Philip Murch in a charismatic performance as the show’s protagonist and evolving social leader, Bobby Strong.
As the conflicted daughter Hope Cladwell, Molly Osborne compellingly realises the role of the innocent heroine, while Danielle Whittaker’s turn as the inquisitive Little Sally provides an ideal counterpoint to Harvey Westwood’s engaging narration as the jobsworth Officer Lockstock.
As is often the case in conservatoire productions, it is evident that there is much untapped talent within the chorus as well as among the line-up of principals. Even if the choreography could have been more precisely executed in places, the full-bodied vocal sound of the ensemble numbers ensures that the company makes a powerful impression right from the outset.
The juxtaposition of received pronunciation and northern English accents to differentiate between the privileged associates of the Urine Good Company and the underclass of Public Convenience No.9 is a pleasing touch, even if they come across as being applied a little inconsistently at times.
The five-piece band led by musical director Verity Quade provides solid accompaniment throughout, although the balance is better suited to the full chorus than to some of the spoken dialogue: Westwood’s storytelling as Officer Lockstock sometimes becomes obscured, lessening the dramatic impact of his fourth-wall-breaking dialogue in articulating the show’s overarching structure.
Some of the finer detail of the wordier songs is similarly obfuscated within this sonorous backdrop, while the fleeting glimpse of the band to which the audience is treated during Act I represents a somewhat curious directorial gesture, distracting from the pivotal moment of Murch and Osborne’s love duet.
Jenny Arnold’s choreography enhances the musical numbers well, but might have been granted the possibility for a greater level of ambition in some of the more overblown choruses, which become perhaps a little too reliant on sequences in which each performer executes the same dance moves simultaneously.
Trinity Laban’s production of Urinetown successfully combines irreverent comedy with inspired performances, prompting laughter and applause in equally generous measure.