As theatres reopen we are starting to see some of the shows that appeared as streams throughout lockdown transfer to West End stages. Public Domain is the latest show to make the leap. Having been born through a scratch night at Southwark Playhouse, the piece has grown to where it is today - and just like that, it has scored a West End run.
I previously reviewed the streamed production back in January (original review here) and caught up with the shows producer and director Adam Lenson earlier this week to talk about how the show has transferred From Stream to Stage so I had a lot of interest in how the show has progressed and if I would love it as much second time around.
Public Domain is a musical all about the Internet, those who use it and get lost in the darker side of it. The entire show is verbatim with every line and lyric taken from tweets, instagram posts and YouTube videos - an intriguing prospect which seems impossible to pull together for a cohesive narrative. The impossible does get pulled off as what we are treated to is the journey of two YouTubers interspersed with interviews from Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and his wife.
All characters are performed brilliantly by show creators Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke. As the YouTubers they show a self obsessed, delusional and often dangerous side to vlogging with Clarke particularly pushed to the limits of his own mental health all in the name of trying to stay relevant. The topic of mental health is highlighted with the shows standout song 'Rise and Conquer' which talks of struggles during the pandemic. For this number, Forristal & Clarke are accompanied by videos of many others singing the lyrics, making this an impactful and powerful performance.
The characterisation from the two performers keeps you captivated throughout. In a brilliant sequence recreating Mark Zuckerbergs Senate hearing, Francesca Forristal exhibits fantastic versatility and comic timing playing a series of Senators and Congresswomen.
What really sets Public Domain apart from other shows is the technology aspect. A challenging setup online, having to recreate it in person is as complicated as it gets. The performers are constantly surrounded by interlaced video, ctreated by Matt Powell, mirroring everything they say so timing is crucial. The sync and setup throughout the one act show was pretty flawless and incredibly impressive to witness - a testament to pure precision. The lighting on the stage was as impactful, setting the mood with its sudden changes.
The show uses the fact it is in a West End venue to elevate its message. The stage contains a QR code which, when scanned, brings up the shows programme, while the safety announcement before the show reminds you that the Internet owns you and failure to love the show will result in your data being shared - a hilarious and smart touch.
The fact cohesive songs have managed to be created from verbatim social media posts really is a stroke of genius. 'TikTok' is an absolute earworm while 'Lovely Boat' is a refreshing change of pace, talking about pensioners in their 90s getting to grips with technology.
For a show about the Internet and how desperate we can be to find connections with strangers online, Public Domain rather fittingly transcends a lot better in person. While the streamed production was fantastic in its own right, the show really does connect in front of an audience which really drives home the message that you can't beat real human interaction.
What I witnessed with Public Domain was the birth of something special. Refreshingly different to your standard shows, what has been created here is a unique experience both for the eyes and the ears. Fantastically performed and incredibly staged, Forristal, Clarke and Lenson have struck theatre gold with this show. Keep following them as this show is bound to grow and grow.
Public Domain plays at the Vaudeville Theatre until Sunday 30th May. Tickets are from https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/public-domain/
You can stream an EP of songs from the show at https://ingroov.es/public-domain