Since the start of the lockdown last year many of us have relied on the internet, both to keep in touch with friends and loved ones and keep up to date with the latest news. Timely new musical Public Domain, streaming live from London’s Southwark Playhouse this weekend, explores our relationship with the likes of Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and delves into the good – and the bad – side of social media.
Written and performed by Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke, Public Domain was originally conceived for Southwark Playhouse’s 2019 event NEWSFEED, where writers had to create a song based on the week’s news. The digital version was due to be streamed in December but was postponed due to a team member having to self-isolate. Thankfully it’s been worth the wait.
Billed as ‘Black Mirror but real and set to music’ the musical explores our relationship with the internet and is made up entirely of words of internet users, Instagram influencers, YouTube bloggers and Facebook giants. Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke take on a number of characters throughout the show, from teenagers on Twitter to members of Congress, but they focus primarily on two influencers, Millie and Z, as they experience the highs and lows of the internet, as well as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg.
Director Adam Lenson has done a great job in creating an energetic show which cleverly combines live (covid-secure) theatre with digital overlays popping up of the different social media platforms throughout (courtesy of technical wizards Christian Czornyj and Matt Powell). A number of ideas are explored during the show, including what really happens at Facebook, from how its own staff are treated to the issue of privacy. This is certainly a thought-provoking musical and there are a number of interesting concepts explored, most notably how social media can take a toll on your mental health, both for users of the platforms and content regulators.
Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke have done a great job of putting these words to songs and there are a few catchy numbers within the vast soundtrack, including one about TikTok which you’re sure to be singing the next day (I am). The pair have created a brilliantly original show full of energy and enthusiasm, and one which elicits a range of emotions. Though you may begin the show laughing at Millie’s fitness vlogs and Z’s overly dramatic sounding videos with titles like ‘I Cut My Own Hair And Now This…’, their vulnerability soon becomes apparent and you realise just how much some people rely on the internet as a form of validation. Of course a show about the likes of Facebook is sure to have moments which shock and the inclusion of quotes from ex-content regulators about the dark side of the internet that they’re subjected to (with very little support) certainly fits the bill. But in amongst these eye-opening scenes are truly heart-warming moments, including a section involving elderly residents of a care home trying to work the internet, and people coming together during the pandemic. It’s a reminder that although there are negative aspects of social media, it does have its good moments and it’s certainly helped us all connect over the past year.
There were some minor technical glitches during the first performance, but these were resolved swiftly and the team should be commended for how quickly the show was back up and running – if anything it brought back the excitement of live theatre where anything can happen. With all of the digital content this must have been an incredibly difficult show to put together but the cast and creative team have succeeded in creating a brilliant show which is timely and incredibly thought-provoking. Other than perhaps a few too many scenes with Mark Zuckerberg at the Senate, this is a slick musical which is hugely relevant in these times. Fun, witty and incredibly creative, Public Domain is a show that will get you thinking about how you use social media, and is certainly not to be missed.
Public Domain is streaming live at 3.15pm and 7.45pm on 16 January. An encore stream will be available to view from Tuesday 19 – Sunday 24 January. To book tickets visit https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/public-domain/
Photo credit: The Other Richard