Public Domain, Southwark Playhouse

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Back in a brief period when we were allowed to go and see theatre I headed to Cockpit Theatre in London at the invitation of Pint of Wine to see a full workshop production of Francesca Forristal & Jordan Paul Clarke’s PS I’m a Terrible Person, a musical about a teenager with an eating disorder.

It was a great show, particularly under the difficult circumstances, but my main takeaway was that the duo were clearly influenced by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (aren’t we all?) and overwhelmed the narrative with songs, when it desperately needed to take away the story become a popera.

Public Domain takes a verbatim approach to their songs and seems more suited to their style of focusing on the musical element of musical theatre. All the lyrics are taken from Youtube videos, tweets or instagram post. This can take liberties, does the video of Mark Zuckerberg at the Joint Commerce and Judiciary Committee count as a Youtube production? Anyway there is a story regarding Z and Millie but this is lost amongst the other stories Forristal and Clarke want to tell and I found it difficult to engage with these characters, whose role was to give a human face to the influencer life (the ups and the downs of needing that validation) with many songs about how miserable it is to be an influencer, the one about lockdown doesn’t feel completely relevant to being an influencer and more suited to the theatre industry…

The work is at its best when it has a focus; from the Facebook (FB) moderators, who are contractors rather than staff, who find themselves watching animal abuse to the scenes regarding Zuckerberg’s giving evidence but I am not sure what it is trying to say; Is FB bad? In the internet bad? Is lockdown bad? Without that focus my mind wandered, I am not sure what it was building to.

Musically the songs sound quite similar and it is hard to distinguish between them. As this is Forristal and Clarke’s only opportunity to shine it is disappointing (the lack of song list provided hasn’t helped) and I wonder if it would have been a more engaging show with different performers. As someone who has been publically hostile to streams I felt the stream element worked really well. The strength is that this young duo have really embraced what streaming can do; with Matt Powell’s strong visuals on screen to give context and make it feel like a Youtube or TikTok video for example.

With focus and distinctive music this could be a relevant show about the internet but at the moment it feels like a lot of ideas with no purpose.

An encore stream of ‘Public Domain’ will be available to view from Tuesday19 – Sunday 24 January with this link https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/public-domain/

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