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Public Domain at Southwark Playhouse | Review

A lot happens in Public Domain, which explores the digital world. First night ‘technical difficulties’ were, I’m reasonably certain, met with a mixture of stoicism and irony from the audience (and indeed from the cast). I must admit I thought the show had ended abruptly, like the final episode of the American television series The Sopranos. And I might have otherwise missed a good twenty minutes or so if I’d left the stream at that point.

Public Domain - Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke - Photo The Other Richard.
Public Domain – Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke – Photo The Other Richard.

The show focuses on the creation of online content and how different people engage with it, from the millennial target audience of the social media ‘influencers’, to politicians in Congress (if ‘con’ is the opposite of ‘pro’, what is the opposite of progress?) questioning Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg (Jordan Paul Clarke), to a centenarian who makes regular use of her Nintendo. There’s much about the world of Facebook, to the point of including some personal details about Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan (Francesca Forristal), and while other big players in the world of online content also feature, there’s not a peep about the lifestyles of their senior leaders.

The production explores the evolution of online video content. We do indeed now live in a world where someone on TikTok explains something like chemical thermodynamics in the amount of time it takes someone else on YouTube to encourage people who already like and subscribe to their channel to like and subscribe to their channel. There are some laugh-out-loud moments – particularly when an influencer, or a member of Congress, says something quite absurd – and the show is, for the most part, as fast-paced as the online world tends to be. The minimal costume
changes reflect the briskness of proceedings.

That said, even by musical theatre standards, some of the lyrics can be almost painfully repetitive. For instance, Zuckerberg and Chan claimed so many times that “we work together on this” that by the time they had finished saying so, I had forgotten what on earth ‘this’ referred to. Too many of the songs sound too similar to one another. Perhaps this is the point the production wishes to make: a lot of social media content is very much alike, and words of positivity from one influencer or vlogger is more or less what another is saying too.

Some care is taken to give credit where it is due, and Zuckerberg is not portrayed as some kind of monster who is out to undermine the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The show doesn’t provide much in the way of new information to anyone who has been following what’s been going on in the world in recent years. Influencers are popular for a reason – they have a way with words and have a warm and engaging style. In this regard, it was always going to be quite a task to be any more charming. Add to this the clarion call from influencers for authenticity (“Be yourself!”): these are actors taking on characters other than themselves. The cast rise to the challenge sufficiently enough.

The production could, perhaps, be more focused, and explore fewer subject areas in greater depth. An entire show could be put together about President Trump’s social media output, for example, but here he only features briefly. Ultimately, it’s a good effort, and with some refinement (the show’s programme admits to the production not having had any workshops, albeit because of the pandemic) it could yet become a show that goes viral.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

and just like that we felt a little less alone

A dark, funny, verbatim musical about the internet: Those who own it; those who live in it; and you.

This high-adrenaline, electronic thrill ride is made entirely from the words of YouTube vloggers, Instagram influencers, Facebook’s tech giants, and everyday internet users. It’s like Black Mirror but real, and set to music.

Written and performed by Francesca Forristal & Jordan Paul Clarke, Public Domain takes words spoken and typed in the last year to build a unique portrait of the digital world that is every bit as mesmerising as it is terrifying.

This live concert staging is conceived specially for multi-camera streaming and will give audiences a first chance to experience the music, characters and story of Public Domain.

Creative Team
Director – Adam Lenson
Writers – Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke
Set & Costume Design – Libby Todd
Lighting Design – Matt Daw
Video Design / Associate Director – Matt Powell
Movement Director – George Lyons
Stage Manager – Roni Neale
Livestream Production – Christian Czornyj for theatrical.solutions
Cast – Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke

ALP Musicals presents
Public Domain
by Francesca Forristal
and Jordan Paul Clarke
15 -16 JAN 2021
https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

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