Whether it be virus related ‘fake news’, frustrating clickbait, or incitement of insurrection, we’ve all seen the very worst of social media in the last few months, while at the same time, Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, opened a lot of user’s eyes to what happens under the hood of their favourite platforms. So, the premiere of new musical Public Domain is certainly timely, although creators Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke, have been working on the show for over a year.
Of course, when they first started writing a verbatim musical about the online world, they were unaware that 2020 would be more about virus than viral, and that the online world would be their creation’s only available outlet.
Streamed live from the stage of Southwark Playhouse’s ‘The Little’, following last year’s successful stream of The Poltergeist, it would have been all to easy to focus on the negative aspects of social media. Instead, Public Domain strikes a good balance between the positive and negative; one scene demonstrates the importance to older people of being able to connect with loved ones, and of course it’s emergence as a lifeline for people in isolation during the pandemic is also covered.
Twitter, despite its many faults, is left largely alone, and the focus is instead given to Facebook, YouTube and, briefly Tik Tok. Interviews with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Pricilla Chan, and excerpts from Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing, are blended with the live performance. Every lyric and line of dialogue has been lifted from a real YouTube video or social media post. Jordan Paul Clarke often delivers words from Zuckerberg, and without doing an impression, still manages to unmistakably convey exactly who’s words these are.
There are moments that feel like pure parody, especially in the vlogger scenes, then you remember the words have been lifted verbatim from those very YouTube videos being satirised. The portrayal doesn’t so much mock vloggers and influencers, but does open up questions about their value add potential, and eventually tackles the mental health implications of measuring your worth by clicks, followers and subscribers.
Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke have written a profound piece of commentary on modern society, tackling some really complex themes while still delivering an entertaining musical, indeed the score is catchy, never held back by the verbatim lyrics, and contains a couple of very memorable tunes. The pair also perform in Public Domain, and under the direction of Adam Lenson, have a great connection which brings an unbridled Gen Z energy to proceedings.
This is a ‘like and subscribe’ kind of musical, and one of the benefits of premiering it online was the ability to overlay some funky video elements with the live performance. Christian Czornyj and Matt Daw’s influence makes the whole thing very visually appealing. Some minor technical issues on the first night were quickly resolved, and did little to dampen the audience at home’s overall enjoyment of the stream.
Public Domain is substantial in terms of themes and messaging, like social media itself, it is busy, loud and overwhelming at times, and you’re likely to take your own message away from it. What Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke have achieved with this new musical should not be underestimated; quality content with not a whiff of clickbait in sight.
Public Domain livestreams 15th and 16th January. An encore stream will be available to view from Tuesday 19 – Sunday 24 January at this link https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/public-domain/