Inspiration comes to people in strange places, and it came to Mark Hollman when he was going to the toilet. He had to pay to use a public toilet in Paris, and that gave him the idea for Urinetown, a musical about a world where all private toilets have been banned, and control of the public toilets has been outsourced to a gigantic monopoly, the UGC, who spend their time cheerfully passing price hikes through the government. Malefactors who break the law against urinating in public are sent to 'Urinetown'.
A world where everyone is busting to go: it's the kind of sublimely intense idea that musicals were made for.
Last night I went to see a production of Urinetown by schoolkids (from Williamstown High, Diogenes neck of the woods; notch one up for the public education system!) and had a jolly good time. (The toilet filled with steaming dry ice to create the occasional misty stage effect was a particularly nice touch).
The main theme of the play was conveyed in the first scene by a series of front pages from The Age, where headlines described the situation as it unfolded:
'Thirty Year Drought'
'Private urinals banned'
'UGC takes over urinals'
'Offenders sent off to Urinetown'.
That sort of thing. Satire based on this idea could be taken in any direction, obviously, but I wondered about the other stories that would be published in a post-Urinetown edition of The Age.
Kenneth Davidson, obviously, would be running a series of articles extolling the older, kinder Australia where public toilets were free, clean, and happy places to be, and where there was a "Lavatory on every street corner!" Although, of course, any moves to reintroduce a 'private toilet' system would be portrayed by Davidson as "a form of theft." Freelance opinion columnist Chris Masters would write a column redolent with nostalgia about this happier Australia, full of gleaming white lavatories, and supplying a charming and obviously relevant anecdote about a media personality called Alan Jones, but let's not go into that. Meanwhile, a guest column by Gerard Henderson, of The Sydney Morning Herald, would staunchly defend the decision by the Government to privatise the public toilets and create the UGC.
At the same time, The Age would also run a feature entitled 'Every little drop counts', with a list of handy bullet-point tips telling readers how to hold it in, and giving publicity to a recent study by the CSIRO into the devastating consequences that could result from our overuse of urinals. The editorial would be mostly concerned with encouraging 'sensible urine policy' on the part of the Government.
The gossip column would mostly be concerned with cosmetic surgery on Paris Hilton's dog (who, by this time, is technically dead, but not taxidermically so), and need not be mentioned.
The letters page would be overflowing (not literally, obviously) with urine. One punter from Malvern would write in with the pithy (he thinks) line "The Government's urine policy is short-term gain for long-term pain!". An elderly gentlemen living in an old person's home in Camberwell pens a dreadful 148-line poem about the current urine-situation, of which The Age deigns to publish three lines:
Pay to pee?
O woe is me!
I do not want to pay this terrible fee!
A number of readers from Fitzroy write letters in which the first sentence makes reference to the Government's urine policy, and then by way of a blatant non-sequitur, go on to talk about the misguided war against terror, the greenhouse effect, the sufferings of the little man, etc, etc, etc. One would note that this would never have happened if the Whitlam Government had been re-elected and instituted a non-existent 'Urinal for All!' policy. And an elderly lady from South Yarra would encourage the UGC's latest round of price-hikes because it kept the ' unwashed masses' out of her local toilet.
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