Public Domain (Southwark Playhouse Online)

This new musical, written and performed by Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke, directed and produced by the prolific Adam Lenson, puts tech and social media front and centre with digital wizardry and a book/lyrics assembled from verbatim tweets, insta posts and YouTube videos.

Perhaps it was almost inevitable that tonight’s showing had to deal with technical issues of its own: no fault of those creatives who have worked hard to bring this to the screen, but fitting and ironic in a way that a musical which touches on sharing, streaming, blocking and meltdowns itself is interrupted.

Publiv Domain is a strange beast. It doesn’t have any big numbers, but does have a couple of earworms: you won’t be getting the words “Facebook” and “TikTok” out of your head any time soon. It is a testament to what can be achieved with the fusion between live theatre and film in the digital space.

Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke in Public Domain

The performers play a range of characters including a pair of young vloggers who gradually disintegrate before our eyes, burnt out by the approval they constantly have to seek. From “the best thing evah” to “I can’t do this” echoes the expectation for these creators to over-share and become a part of the machine which carries their videos.

Elsewhere there are the Zuckerbergs, members of Congress, a couple of ex-Facebook moderators telling all, and a group of scarily tech-conscious 90-somethings in a retirement home, being played even at the end of their lives.

That digital wizardry I mentioned earlier is excellent, from creating vlogs to overlaying content, building a wall of videos in an effort to build a community, and in presenting Forristal/Clarke’s work live on stage in a Covid-safe way.

Thankfully, that word which has disrupted all our lives is only mentioned once. It is issues of privacy, connection and over-sharing that are to the fore, and how these can affect mental health.

Jordan Paul Clarke in Public Domain

The music is pulsing with joy, pulling in repetitive phrases but making them sensible as a whole. Not every scene works – there is a little too much mimicry in the scenes where Zuckerberg is grilled on company policy, and I’d personally snip any footage of Trump (although his role caused some Twitter chat last night).

Where Public Domain does score a hit though is in understanding the pressure to publish and create a character for a vlog. It is also powerful in detailing some of the “Facebook mistakes” mods have to sift through with little support. Ultimately it is a clever and committed piece, and Lenson’s most accomplished piece in lockdown.

It definitely made me think carefully about the implications of how I and my family use social media, and about the integrity and security of our data, as well as how big corporations are influencing even the smallest things we do, say and think.

Public Domain continues with live streams at 3.15pm and 7.45pm on the 16 January. An encore stream will be available to view from 19-24 January at https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/public-domain/.

Image credit: The Other Richard

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Public Domain.

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