Hayes Theatre, January 13


This production of Urinetown extends the current golden run of theatre in Sydney. The directing, choreography, music, design and lighting are all so sharp that someone could get hurt, and most of the performances grip you like crossed legs do a full bladder.

Petronella van Tienen and Joel Horwood. Top: Karen Vickery and Natasha Vickery. Photos: Phil Erbacher.

We all know that a degree of silliness is implicit in the whole idea of musical theatre, but collectively agree to ignore this and get on with the business of being entertained. Urinetown actually sets out to remind us of the silliness, cheerfully sending up shows ranging from Les Miserables to West Side Story, while, more radically, satirising itself as it goes along.

Mark Hollman (music and lyrics) and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics) unleashed the piece on a world unused to urine being a subject for theatre in 2001. “I don’t think too many people are going to want to see this musical,” says the fabulous creation that is Little Sally late in the show. “And the title’s awful!”

You have to admit she’s got a point, and yet once you’ve seen it, you realise the creators had no choice in the name. For any who haven’t slipped on the tiles of Urinetown before, it’s set when an endless drought has made water so scarce that flushing has become a luxury attracting a fee. A corporation called Urine Good Company makes a motza from having privatised all the public toilets, which places the poor in an invidious, leg-crossing position, because going anywhere other than these amenities is a grave crime.

If that all sounds a bit grim, the story actually unfolds with all the zany carelessness of a cartoon. Those who die keep popping up again, and, in a cute twist, the arch villain turns out to have had the firmest grip on environmental policy. But the show has two minor cracks in its porcelain: a tendency towards sprays of undergraduate humour here and there, and the fact that in sending up Broadway musicals, the music must adhere to a tradition that prevents it being as original as the concept.

Deanna Farnell and Cast. Photos: Phil Erbacher.

Nonetheless the writing is dizzyingly clever, and this Heart Strings Theatre Co production, which originated in Canberra and is snappily directed by Ylaria Rogers, ticks every box in highlighting that cleverness and squeezing out each drop of comedy, aided at every turn by Cameron Mitchell’s ingenious choreography.

Rogers’ troupe contains no major stars of Australian musical theatre, and yet all roles are ideally cast, and wherever you look you see another startling performance. Joel Horwood is the boy-next-door protagonist, Bobby Strong, who would seem improbably naive and innocent were it not for his love interest, Hope Cladwell, being the vanishing point on the horizon of the whole concept of ingenue, realised by Petronella van Tienen with sparkling humour. Natasha Vickery is a consistently hilarious Little Sally, and she is matched in quality by Deanna Farnell’s Pennywise (the loo-keeper), and Karen Vickery’s gender-swapped Lockstock, the on-the-take copper who happily tells us she can come to no harm, because she’s also the narrator. Max Gambale and Joe Dinn commendably complete the main roles.

Monique Langford’s simple set maximises the space for dance, and the performances (in Helen Wojtas’ costumes) are so brilliantly lit by Jasmin Borsovszky that many images will be etched into the memory. Matthew Reid leads an expert keyboards/woodwinds/ brass/bass/drums quintet, and, in a welcome touch too rare at the Hayes, the sound was perfectly mixed and never too loud.  See this. You’ll piss yourself laughing.

Until February 5.