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Review of Public Domain at the Vaudeville Theatre, London

Like most people, I have the requisite social media presence. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and (even though I’m definitely not in their target demographic) TikTok. In fact, if you google my name – and please tell me I’m not the only person to do this – it’s amazing how much comes up, in my case over 500,000 results. Is this a good or a bad thing? Should I be worried about all the information I am sharing with the internet and social media giants? And even if the answer to both of these is a resounding ‘yes’ will I be changing my behaviour anytime soon? After a visit to the Vaudeville Theatre for the press night of Public Domain, I just might.

Public Domain - Photo by The Other Richard
Public Domain – Photo by The Other Richard

Public Domain is not a standard play/musical. For a start, there isn’t a fixed narrative. No real story that starts at point A, has a high followed by a low and finally a good old send-off at point D. There is a bit of a story involving a 16-year-old boy called ‘Z’ who drops out of school to make YouTube his profession and Influencer Millie (think sporty spice, health guru, millennial) and their experience of a life based around social media. Along with this, there are also appearances by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, his wife Dr Priscilla Chan and some less than tech-savvy members of the US Senate. All of these roles are played by the very talented duo of Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke (who together also wrote the book, lyrics, and orchestrations). Between the two of them, we go back to Facebook’s origins, a simple platform to allow people from different places to get in touch and share things, to today where it, and its subsidiary companies, are seen as a Big Brother type organisation with fingers in every part of its users’ lives. We also get a glimpse into the, frankly horrendous, lives of Facebook content moderators along with a rather heart-warming moment as some very senior citizens discuss their use of social media.

According to the programme – which is free and downloadable via a QR Reader, the show is taken verbatim from the words of vloggers, influencers, and Mr Zuckerberg himself. This adds a kind of poignancy to the production as these desperate young people cry out for their viewers to ‘like and subscribe’. A phrase you hear everywhere these days. It also means that during the sequences when Mark is in front of the Senate, you realise just how out of their depth the majority of legislators are when dealing with the tech giants, which brings its own level of discomfort for the audience.

Director Adam Lenson has moved the show to the West End in fine style and Libby Todd’s set is simple but when combined with Matt Powell’s amazing video graphics, fills the stage, and really adds to the production creating a perfect link between the performers and the digital world outside – particularly in some of the songs which included the Youtuber Chorus.

Francesca and Jordan were really engaging as performers and had a massively positive energy about them all the way through. The songs were, on the whole, really good and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on Spotify this morning. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure if it was just where I was sitting but there were times when the music partially drowned out the singing which was slightly frustrating. As someone who has recently become addicted to TikTok, I loved the songs about the platform and its very strange, and often inconsistent, censorship rules. It also made me realise I had no idea who owns TikTok – checked this morning and it’s a Chinese company called ByteDance. Another high spot was the all too brief appearance of Donald Trump and his relationship with Twitter, though given his recent history, I really thought this element could have been longer.

Summing up then, Public Domain is fast, witty, and superbly produced. It engaged me from the start and left me really thinking about my own social media presence and the information I am putting out there. Facebook in particular came on for a great deal of negative comments but, as one of the senators pointed out if the platform is free for users, then it has to make its money somehow. I know that my details are being shared with marketing people so they can show me ads as I scroll through my friends’ updates but I accept that as part of the contract between me and Mark that means I can sit in a room in London chatting to a mate in Perth, WA for free.

Finally, and believe me, I appreciate the irony, when this review is published, I will be sharing it across my social media channels so don’t forget to read it then like and subscribe.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Public Domain is a dark, funny, verbatim musical about the internet: Those who own it; those who live in it; and YOU!

Following an acclaimed digital debut at Southwark Playhouse this thrilling, new British musical, composed entirely from the real-life words of YouTube vloggers, Instagram influencers, Facebook’s tech giants, and everyday internet users now has its live world premiere in the West End.

Written and performed by the hugely talented Francesca Forristal (Oddball) and Jordan Paul Clarke (Showstopper! The Improvised Musical), this blackly comic musical follows two teenage influencers; Millie (sporty spice, health guru, buddha bowls – millennial) and Z (GCSEs existential dread, swag – generation Z), as well as featuring exclusive ‘footage’ of inside Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan’s family home…

You’re gonna get their honest, true selves… with some serious bass, obvs. Authentic, right?

Remember, it’s like ‘Black Mirror’ but real and set to music.

Public Domain
404 Strand London WC2R 0NH
Booking Thursday 27 – Sunday 30 May 2021

Book Tickets for London West End Theatres

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1 thought on “Review of Public Domain at the Vaudeville Theatre, London”

  1. Claire Sheehan

    I saw this streamed from Southwark Theatre in January. Great review Terry and bang on. Fast, witty, dark and warm. I LOVED it. Covid19 rules and having to work on Monday means I can’t fly Dublin to London to see it. Hopefully, it will come to Dublin soon. Don’t miss it, lucky Londoners!

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