REVIEW: ‘Public Domain’ at Vaudeville Theatre

Brian Butler May 28, 2021

In January , deep into lockdown 3 , a new musical was born online and streamed via Southwark Playhouse. It seemed fitting to our times as it was about the multiple plague and blessing of the internet.

Photograph © Jane Hobson.

But now theatres are semi-filled with the buzz of a real audience, it seems equally appropriate that we get to see Public Domain in the flesh.

Culled from verbatim reports on the web, Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke have conceived and perform a nightmare series of encounters with influencers, video bloggers and you and me – the sad, dispirited, friendless, wildly over-optimistic and frantic monetisers of Facebook, Tik Tok, YouTube and Instagram.

Jordan is a swaggering blogger who oscillates between manically high-pitched happy and deeply despairing; Francesca is Millie, whose fitness and lifestyle regime drags even her down eventually to realise she’s burnt herself out  by giving herself to us.

Photograph © Jane Hobson.

And then there are the Zuckerbergs – Mark, founder of Facebook, and his wife Priscilla Chan, condemned out of their own mouths, living a life that seemed to me as vacuous as that of their users and ‘friends’.

But this morality tale has great catchy tunes that capture both the fake optimism and underlying commercialism of these enterprises that claim to be democratic, free-speaking and uncensored.

The opening song Friends Of Our Friends encapsulate this optimism/ sinister undertone, as does a wonderfully silly musical number about Tik Tok , with its catchphrase “a little brighter inside”.

Photograph © Jane Hobson.

The only note of positivity comes in the final moments when we hear the testimony of the elderly residents of a care home who have come  late in life to the joys of photo sharing and messaging and think “it’s marvellous”.

The on-screen technicalities of the show, with dizzying multiple imaging, transfer well to the stage, if at times the loud bass underscoring can drown out the lyrics.

Sadly it’s slated to end its short run on May 30, but I will bet a bitcoin or two that Public Domain will reappear on our stage very soon. It deserves to – it’s a blistering sad/funny five-star triumph.