Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Saturday 30th July, 2016
The world is in the toilet. Corporations profit from basic human functions and the law is on their side. The premise for this 2001 musical by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis is at once ridiculous and pertinent – never more so than in this crazy day and age. Politicians in the pockets of unscrupulous corporations – surely not!
In this piss-topia arises a hero and rabble-rouser Bobby Strong who encourages the poor to pee for free, inspired by his love for the naive daughter of the boss of the evil corporation. Events unfold in a surprising way: our way of life is unsustainable, the show reminds us, and perhaps a socialist revolution is not an easy fix.
It’s a brilliant, hilarious show – one of my all-time favourites – and the funniest serious musical you could ever hope to enjoy.
As Bobby Strong, Brad Walwyn is in superb voice. In fact they all are, as soloists and in the hair-raising chorus numbers. The Old Joint Stock Musical Theatre Company is a wealth of talent crammed into a tiny studio – the intimacy of the venue adds to the energy and immediacy of the show. There is no attempt at maintaining a fourth wall here, no point when the show, with its Brechtian devices, celebrates the artifice and theatricality of the enterprise. Chief of these frame-breakers, is Officer Lockstock, our narrator, played to the hilt by the charismatic Richard Haines who delivers a kind of easy menace and a knowing humour. Karl Steele is excellent as villain of the piece, Caldwell B Cladwell while daughter Hope (Mairead Mallon) is a wide-eyed, eyelid-batting delight. Lizzie Robins hits the high notes as Miss Pennywise, and Laura Peters is a hoot as the ever-questioning innocent, Little Sally. But really, ever chorus member deserves the highest praise. Kudos, too, to the unseen live band that delivers the rich and complex score.
The choreography, by Sarah Haines, is infectious – you feel like getting up and joining in. Director Adam Carver (who also appears as slimy Senator Fipp) keeps things in-your-face and adorns the action with hilarious comic business. There is a lot going on in this tiny space, and the audience is caught in the middle of it – which suits the show’s message absolutely. Not that this is a preachy production. It’s an engaging, exhilarating entertainment that tickles the mind as much as the funnybone. And this version at the Old Joint Stock is practically flawless. A contender for my Show Of The Year, this is everything theatre should be.