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Public -The Musical Pleasance Courtyard Edinburgh

I have mixed feelings about this show, which spends so much time creating thoroughly dislikeable characters that although some degree of civility and maturity comes through eventually, I simply found myself agreeing with any of them whenever they said they can’t wait until it’s all over and they can get out of here. Quite why the characters are trapped in the first place is because the door to a gender-neutral public toilet is faulty and cannot be opened from either the inside or the outside. An engineer is called for but they will take an hour to get to the site (not bad, in this day and age).

Public -The Musical. Credit Pleasance.
Public -The Musical. Credit Pleasance.

In no particular order, Finley (Hugo Rolland) has personal issues but says he’s “working it out”, Zo (Annabel Marlow) seems to be a champagne socialist, an activist who doesn’t hold down a job, and Andrew (Andrew Patrick-Walker) is the stereotypical alpha male cyclist. Laura (Alicia Corrales) was the only character I warmed to. The preferred pronouns are ‘they/them’ but ultimately it’s not the most important thing in the whole wide world, and quite rightly (for me, anyway) they are not overly bothered if they are referred to as ‘she’. This, I’ve found in real life, to be how most non-binary people are, just wanting to get on with their lives, not campaigning for inadvertent misgendering to become a criminal offence.

Zo isn’t, for the record, looking to press charges against anyone, but the “Gemini, Leo rising, with a Cancer moon” who isn’t so much in between jobs as “in between dreams”, whatever that means, forces the usually non-confrontational Laura into explaining why it is that all her chatter and interventions and preaching to others is a hindrance rather than a help. Asked – not instructed – to tone it down a bit, her subsequent vow of silence is nothing short of infantile. In the end, I found it very difficult to care much for any of them. Zo’s outright laughter at an opposing viewpoint to her own summarised the kind of sheer intolerance and disdain for others that, while commonplace, doesn’t make for good theatre. “Your feelings are valid, or whatever,” is Zo’s dismissiveness to Laura.

Where the production does somewhat redeem itself is in the quality of singing – the vocal gymnastics won’t appeal to everyone, and indeed make the musical numbers rather hammy – everyone does sing brilliantly, both individually and collectively. Maybe it should be turned into one of those entirely sung-through musicals. The ending is sufficiently realistic – it naturally follows that it is unlikely these characters would want to meet again, even if circumstances made it feasible. The audience at the performance I attended laughed quite heartily at any confusion over pronouns: reviewers, on the other hand, come under severe criticism if any pronouns are incorrect, so I had no inclination at all to even break into a smile.

The actors themselves are well cast for the characters they embody, and do their best with what they are given. But when what they are given is, amongst other things, whether KitKat could be classed as a biscuit, and the reading out loud of various graffiti writings on the walls, the show is disappointing, and a missed opportunity to discuss some pertinent contemporary issues in a balanced and considered manner.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Four unlikely strangers find themselves trapped together in a gender-neutral public toilet. With an hour to kill until maintenance arrives, the group must stop themselves from going around the U-bend while navigating unexpected challenges, pungent opinions and some seriously sticky conversations. Told in real time, it’s a bathroom break they will never forget!

Through catchy bops and heartfelt ballads, Public – The Musical runs the gamut of contemporary concerns. It candidly explores gender identity, the clogged world of toxic masculinity, allyship, the climate crisis, social media and more as these four strangers have their patience pushed to the limit.

Composer Kyla Stroud
Co-writers and Direction Kyla Stroud, Hannah Sands, Natalie Stroud
Choreographer Natalie Stroud
Musical Direction Olivia Zacharia
Co-Producers Kyla Stroud, Hannah Sands and The Pleasance
Notes Ages 14+, contains strong language
Social Media @Public_Musical @StroudAndNotes #PublicTheMusical

Wednesday 2nd – Monday 28th August 2023
Pleasance Courtyard (Pleasance Two), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ
https://www.pleasance.co.uk/

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