Public Domain at Southwark Playhouse
Trying to cover every aspect of social media and its impact on the world is a daunting task, and Public Domain delivers a searching attempt at doing so. Moving at an incredible pace and touching on a range of issues, it certainly mirrors the speed at which the Internet transforms the world, but at the severe cost of spreading itself too thin, resulting in a confused show that fails to deliver on its own ambitious goal.
This shortcoming is rather frustrating since it’s actually technically accomplished: director Adam Lenson succeeds in gathering a team who create a product that is just nice to look at. From Libby Todd’s sets to Matt Powell’s video design, the show begs to be streamed online. Francesca Forristal, who wrote the script, and Jordan Paul Clarke, who wrote the music and lyrics, also take on a variety of roles and perform them with plenty of charm and voices to match.
Unfortunately, the songs are all rather similar and banal, creating a forgettable soundscape. This wouldn’t be too tragic if it weren’t for the fact that the lyrics and dialogue are also bland. Each word is taken from YouTube videos, tweets or Instagram posts – and it shows. It feels like a lot was sewn together without much thought given to a coherent whole. This is also clear in the “plot”. Aside from random songs about various aspects of social media, the viewer occasionally gets glimpses from Zuckerberg’s hearing in Congress and two stories involving “influencers” who voice their opinions via YouTube. Forristal and Clarke act their roles well enough, but there’s just very little substance.
And that’s the big problem: the show isn’t clear about what it’s trying to say. The audience hears scattered words about censorship, depression, sharing of user data, isolated people being able to keep in touch during COVID – the list goes on – but the message always stays on the fence. Sure, all of these issues are important as well as divisive, but it does them a disservice to mention them in passing in an already cut-short musical; it would have been much more effective to concentrate on one or a few of them instead. What results is an incoherent mess, if a technically very accomplished one.
Public Domain is available to livestream from Southwark Playhouse from 19th January until 31st January 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.