Fringe Musical Theatre

Urinetown

Assembly Hall

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Five stars

Willy's Bitches

Assembly Checkpoint

Four stars

Under The Ground

Assembly Checkpoint

Four stars

Marianne Gunn

Satire is often (badly) described as a bit of a "piss-take" - and, as the title suggests, Urinetown's subject matter is passing water. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's prime musical theatre offering is probably not as bank-able as previous year's shows (such as their more family friendly The Addams Family) although it is a challenging sing for the 19 students on the MA Musical Theatre performance course who are supported by Dustin L. Struhall (from the MA Musical Director course).

The Book, written by Greg Kotis, sets the scene for a dystopia where everyone must pay money to the corporation Urine Good Company to "spend a penny". The first half hour of self-referential exposition is necessary for plot comprehension and the cleverly knowing interaction between Officer Lockstock (wise-cracking Joel Schaefer) and Little Sally (for this feisty performance, Lauren Mayer) is the glue that holds the sometimes odd show together. Lots of nods to different productions and genres make this a treat for musical theatre aficionados.

Both "romantic" leads, although destined for an unhappy ending, were played superbly. As both roles were also double cast, on this occasion Graham Richardson played hero Bobby Strong and Alicia Barban was a practically perfect Hope Cladwell. Barban's slightly operatic vocals and her wonderful comic acting (even when she nearly took a tumble on stage) were clear indicators that she is one to watch in the musical theatre world in the future. Corrupt businessman Caldwell B Cladwell was portrayed well by Jonathan Logan, while Ash Henning was a strong and convincing Pennywise.

With a running time of just over two hours ( long for the Fringe) you could view this as a value-for-money show. It could be argued that a few of the musical numbers could have been trimmed down - or even cut. However, Act One's lovers' duet Follow Your Heart and Act Two's rousing Run, Freedom, Run! would be worth the reasonable ticket price alone. With a convenient 11.45am time slot and a centrally located venue it could be the perfect start to any day at the Fringe.

(runs to August 31

In repertory further up the hill, the RCS is also presenting two new musicals: Willy's Bitches and Under the Ground. The "Willy" is Shakespeare and his "Bitches" include Lady Macbeth, Ophelia and Beatrice, with his creations breaking into song after song sandwiched with some of the most memorable of the Bard's lines. With music and lyrics written by Musical Theatre student Shannon Thurston, this is an impressive piece, although it does have an element of work-in-progress about it. A more successful ending would be welcome, as well as some more complex characters (What of Juliet? And Portia?). Slick musical direction by Tamara Saringer and fine male accompaniment from the band (a pleasing reversal of the gender norms on stage) enhanced the promised "bad-arsery". Most successful were the Helena/Hermia (Shannon Thurston and Melanie Morton) rivalry and the Beatrice/Kate (Hannah Kerbes and Samantha Taylor Burns), well, piss-up. Overall, it was Brigid Shine (as Ophelia) and Lauren Mayer (as Lavinia from Titus Andronicus) who really shone vocally. Although Jenny Hayley-Douglas as Julia was impressive too. Director Philip Howard tries to utilise the cabaret space to maximum effect although there are a few issues with sight lines in the venue.

(runs to August 30)

The final show, being performed every other day, is also an original piece. Under the Ground is a new musical which explores feelings of grief and loneliness in a crowded place - a single Subway car. Nicolette Macleod takes on the central role as a girl who is dealing with the loss of her father. The other people on the subway touch her life, but none more so than the stranger played by Jonathan Logan - surely purveying a message from her father?

Unrequited love, stalkers, hangovers, and homelessness provide the modern topics for the musical numbers and - although it's not a linear plot narrative - the brief encounters add to the sense that every passing moment could change a life and that life should be lived for each moment. Written by Katie Barnett and Megan Hughes, there is pathos aplenty and fine direction by EJ Boyle.

(runs to August 31)

ENDS