Public Domain

Book by Francesca Forristal, music by Jordan Paul Clarke, lyrics by Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke
Adam Lenson for ALP Musicals
Vaudeville Theatre

Public Domain

In January, Public Domain had an earlier airing online from Southwark Playhouse. That digital version was entirely appropriate for this is a show about the Internet and the authors declare that script and lyrics consist entirely of material found on Internet public platforms. Now we can see it live.

I didn’t catch its digital screening but with Matt Powell’s video design, Adam Lenson’s production makes things both live and online simultaneously. Computer contact is almost always face to face and that is the case here, played straight out front as though into camera, but ever-changing images and Matt Daw and Sam Waddington’s lighting make things far from static and versatile Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke perform with great animation.

From the first, Public Domain is funny though its issues are serious and the way it bombards the brain with a barrage of information is indeed like the Internet’s overkill. At times, the speed of delivery too challenges understanding, but repetition and text duplication on screen mean you don’t actually miss much.

Though an early number celebrates the Internet for making us “feel a little less alone—just like that”, it’s a sardonic sentiment and Facebook especially comes in for critical comment as it explores social sites and their operation. Clarke plays Mark Zuckerberg and Forristal his wife Priscilla Chan “at home” to the cameras and Public Domain contrasts that PR stunt with his appearance before a Congressional Committee being roasted by Katie Porter’s questions.

Another congressman doesn’t understand how Facebook is financed, Donald Trump fumes against TikTok and threaded through are a couple of vloggers: a teenage boy who is friendless but vlogs about how to be popular and a girl who drops out of law school to become an online life coach.

Privacy issue and content monitoring both get a look-in with a number for two Facebook staff who have to watch the horrors they delete to protect others but get no help for the effect it has on them.

Near the end things slow down for a couple of silver surfers who love being online, but there’s a critical edge all the way through and you are warned from the start that you may want to turn off your social platforms by the time Public Domain is over.

In an hour and a quarter, it ranges widely and gets lots of laughs, especially from the media savvy, but after taking a swipe at one thing it moves on to the next like you are swiping your tablet. It would be good to take time and dig deeper—but that wouldn’t be this show, which aims at edgy entertainment.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton