*warning – this post contains spoilers, fake blood and public urination*
I’m still not entirely sure what the hell I watched at the Apollo Theatre, but I know that it was sheer genius. I’ve been aware of the director Jamie Lloyd for a while – he is renowned for creating dark, sinister and sometimes gruesome pieces – but I’d never actually seen one of his productions. I missed Urinetown when it was at the St James Theatre in March and, having heard nothing but praise for this bizarrely named musical, I was very excited to hear that it would be transferring to the West End.
The cast remained almost the same as at the St James, although sadly Richard Fleeshman would not be reprising his role as the hero Bobby Strong. There was one addition to the cast who I was fairly excited to see: Nathan Amzi would be taking over the role of Officer Barrel from Adam Pearce. Fairly excited? Try running around the house screaming and immediately booking two opening night tickets excited.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this show, all I knew was that it was based in the future, where water has become scarce and all toilets are owned by a mega-corporation “Urine Good Company” (isn’t that great?!) who charge you extortionate fees to pee. I met several people outside the theatre who I knew either from sight or from Twitter, and swore them to secrecy. I didn’t want any spoilers; I didn’t want to know anything! Believe me, that would come back to bite me on the arse later.
I didn’t realise how close my seat was to the stage – I was dead in the middle of the second row. The stage was quite high and the set was split into two levels, and was very dark and grungy which made the whole theatre seem quite sinister. The musical didn’t start with a big fanfare or even the rising of a curtain, just with Officer Lockstock (Jonathan Slinger) and Little Sally (Karis Jack) wandering onto the stage and going about their business.
Jonathan Slinger is probably one of the most talented actors I have ever had the privilege to witness on stage. Right from the get-go he established Officer Lockstock as a sleazy, creepy, slightly demented police officer who gave you chills. I squirmed in my seat as he leered at the audience from the stage and began to tell the story of Urinetown.
Soon we are introduced to Penelope Pennywise played by Jenna Russell. Miss Pennywise runs Public Amenity #9, assisted by Bobby Strong (Matthew Seadon-Young). The ensemble come together to perform “Too Much Exposition” and it is rare to find such a strong cast as this. Jeff Nicholson and Katie Bernstein particularly stood out, giving outrageously hysterical performances as oppressed members of the public.
Bobby’s father Old Man Strong (Cory English) cannot pay the admission fee and decides to pee in the street, which leads to the arrival of Officers Lockstock and Barrel (again, how brilliant is that?!) I’m a bit shady on the details from this point because I was too distracted by the fact that Nathan was on the stage in front of me for the first time in over four months. I picked up the story again as the two policemen took Old Man Strong down to “Urinetown” which is basically a euphemism for “we’re going to beat the crap out of you now.” It was so well done – the policemen were nowhere near the prisoners they had captured but as they swung their truncheons the prisoners fell, blood spewing from their mouths and flying all over the stage. This musical is definitely not for the faint hearted but I thought it was bloody fantastic. No pun intended.
If there’s one thing that lets this musical down it’s the love story between Bobby Strong and the heiress of Urine Good Company, Hope Cladwell (Rosanna Hyland). To me it felt like their union was shoehorned in, because all good musicals have a love story, and it was a bit clunky at times. Rosanna Hyland was fantastic, although a little inconsistent. I loved Hope’s trilling, high-pitched voice but unfortunately Rosanna didn’t maintain this all the way through. I do think, however, that she would make a cracking Glinda in Wicked in a few years time.
I wasn’t overly impressed with Matthew Seadon-Young as Bobby either. He did have his moments – a particularly impressive riff in the second act comes to mind – but his voice was a little weak, especially against the flawless ensemble. I felt at times he needed to command the stage a bit more to prevent himself getting lost in the busy background action.
There was one moment in the musical that I did not like one little bit (this is the part that contains spoilers). Officer Lockstock and Officer Barrel are patrolling the sewers when Officer Barrel declares his love to Officer Lockstock (sound familiar? At one point I thought they were going to whip out the Fogmaster 5000 and sing an 80’s love song.) I thought this was a really sweet moment and was quite happily watching Officer Barrel declare “that went well” when someone snuck up behind him, slit his throat and sprayed his blood all over the stage. I screamed. Did they just kill Nathan?! I told you that “no spoilers” bullshit would come back to bite me. I would like to point something out at this point – telling me that somebody kills Nathan is not a spoiler, it’s a health warning. I honestly believe my heart stopped when it happened, and I was sat incredulously staring at the stage in utter shock and disbelief for the remainder of the show.
That little hiccup (total mental breakdown) aside, I absolutely adored the show. It was incredibly surreal and messy and weird, but it was also hysterically funny and so ridiculously tongue in cheek you couldn’t help but love it. (Towards the end Officer Lockstock claims he knew he’d survive because he’s the narrator).
The absolutely sensational cast received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end and again I have to mention Jonathan Slinger because I can’t get over how bloody brilliant he was. Creepy as hell, but brilliant.
I didn’t really have time to visit the stage door before my train home, but I had to check that Nathan was in fact still alive. When he came out looking fresh as a daisy I told him that I’d actually screamed when it happened, and he said “I know, I heard you.” That’s mildly embarrassing. After lots of big squishy hugs (I missed those!) and a quick photo I really did have to run. For the entire train journey home I was trying to figure out what the hell I’d just watched, but then I decided to stop analysing it and just accept that it was weird, it was sinister, it was vulgar, but my God it was good.