Review: Urinetown (St James Theatre)

This week, Urinetown officially trickled into town at the St James Theatre. It may seek to take the proverbial out of the traditional West End yowlfests but does it artistically have a pot to piss in?

That Urinetown is not your average musical is as plain as yellow snow. Set in a dystopian future of unspecified location, bent plod Officer Lockstock (Jonathan Slinger) is on hand to frequently break the fourth wall and happy-slap the audience with blunt exposition and spoilers. Playing Plato to this streetwise Socrates is (not so) Little Sally, a street urchin with a sharp tongue; between them they provide much of the evening’s humour. The other characters – and indeed the plot – are all nudge-nudge-wink-wink theatrical clichés, not least ex-Coronation Street Richard Fleeshman as Bobby Strong, our spunky hunk of a hero with ideals higher than his IQ.

Lining up against him, Simon Paisley Day is the deliciously evil Caldwell B Cladwell. A charismatic anti-Wonka possessing both a lustrous porno tache and a monopoly on public urinals, he wants the public to spend more and more pennies to relieve themselves. Failure to pay up means a one-way trip to the mysterious Urinetown and no-one wants that. Notable cast members Marc Elliot (Eastenders’ Syed Masood) makes little impression on the proceedings and Jenna Russell (who sang the ultimate in sci-fi TV theme tune earworms) carries off a late and ludicrous plot twist with aplomb.

Unfortunately, apart from the rousing It’s A Privilege To Pee and gospel-infused Run, Freedom, Run, the show’s songbook is about as memorable as the average morning micturition. The piss-poor attempts by some of the cast at a variety of wholly unnecessary mock-Yank accents jar on the ear and too few of the characters are fleshed out enough for us to care about them. Moreover, there are plot holes aplenty – which girl with a healthy sense of self-preservation would ride a bike to work on her first day then choose to walk home late at night through a rough part of town? – and the depressing denouement is enough to piss anyone off.

Having a couple of handsome soap stars in the cast is not enough these days to warrant the price of entry on those points alone. While Urinetown earned a golden shower of plaudits when it first came out over a decade ago, it has since been surpassed in the alt-musical stakes by the likes of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon.

Urinetown is at St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, SW1, until 3 May. Tickets £27.50-£49.50.

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