Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), 13 Jan – 5 Feb, 2023
Book and Lyrics: Greg Kotis
Music and Lyrics: Mark Hollman
Director: Ylaria Rogers
Cast: Artemis Alfonzetti, Dani Caruso, Joe Dinn, Deanna Farnell, Max Gambale, Joel Horwood, Tom Kelly, Kira Leiva, Barbra Toparis, Petronella Van Tienen, Benoit Vari, Karen Vickery, Natasha Vickery
Images by Phil Erbacher
Somewhere in America, in a dystopian future, to go toilet has become a commodified privilege. Urinetown, the 2001 musical by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, tells a story about an economic system that allows the top 1% to insist on us paying for everything, and receiving incommensurate returns. The vast majority thus becomes increasingly disadvantaged, finding themselves to be mere cattle, constantly scrounging for the benefit of those who claim to be owners of every resource. In Hollman and Kotis’ fantasy, a revolt eventuates. The conclusion however, is not quite as predictable.
It is an excellent conceit, although the plot has a tendency to feel rambling and its narrative often finds itself gridlocked. Not a lot actually happens, in the two-and-a half hour duration, and its humour can be lacklustre, but the songwriting is enjoyable, with enough inventiveness to sustain attention. Matthew Reid’s musical direction is spirited and jaunty, creating a charged atmosphere, with his very accomplished four-piece band.
Direction of the show by Ylaria Rogers is dynamic, with a lightheartedness that keeps things amusing. Cameron Mitchell’s choreography too, provides levity to proceedings, in order that the message becomes an easier pill to swallow. Set design by Monique Langford involves clever use of ladders in various configurations, that allow for a spacious stage to comfortably accommodate a big and busy cast. Helen Wojtas’ costumes for the great unwashed are in appropriate states of dereliction, but with colours and textures to maintain visual interest. Lights by Jasmin Borsovszky are a wonderful element of the production, bringing unexpected beauty and a sense of gravity, to something we know to be true and important.
Performer Joel Horwood demonstrates admirable versatility in the role of Bobby, bringing charm, wit, emotional intensity and a crucial quality of profundity, that prevents the comedy from undermining the whole point of Urinetown. Their singing is powerful, in a show that features consistently strong vocals. Petronella Van Tienen plays Hope, a saccharine sweet character but with the kind of earnestness that most are likely to find appealing. Chemistry between the leads is scintillating, especially for their romantic duet “Follow Your Heart”. Also noteworthy is Natasha Vickery whose vaudeville style of presentation for Little Sally leaves an impression, as one of the more refreshing personalities we encounter, in this world of misery.
Ultimately, we discover that Urinetown is about the extinction of the human race. Some argue that this is due to no fault of our own, but most will understand all the devastation we have brought to the planet. It is a tale about our insatiable greed. It questions our nature, and like all good art, it urges us to examine what it means to be human, and further, if anything could be done, to combat the parts of us determined to cause harm. We keep wanting to overpower Mother Earth, such is the depth of our foolishness. It is certain that we are never going to be a match for the infinitude of the universe, yet we seem determined to not find ways to make peace with it.