Public Domain at Vaudeville Theatre
For those looking to disconnect from the ever-online world of the past year, Public Domain is perhaps one to miss. The searing musical is a shock of scathing satire, with an intensity akin to having an ethernet plugged straight into your frontal lobe. Performed by the brilliant Jordan Paul Clarke and Francesca Forristal, Public Domain is really the story of Facebook and the glaring gap between the utopian ideals of its founder and the disturbing contradictions at the company’s core.
The musical uses lyrics and lines lifted entirely from tweets, Instagram posts, YouTube videos and opens with Facebook Ad, a stage reimagining of the tech giant’s 2018 advert. Immediately triggering an eerie sense of déjà vu, the show incisively draws on characters and tropes, creating an uncanny valley shooting gallery of identikit online personalities. The tragic figures represented, now synonymous with social media – from “lifestyle guru” Millie struggling with burnout to the self-deprecating teenage live-streamer – are represented with both scorn and subtle empathy.
At its best, the production provokingly interrogates the hypocrisy at the heart of the social networking platform. The tongue-in-cheek We Work Together on This, a rendition of an early interview by Oprah Winfrey with Mark Zuckerberg and his now wife Priscilla Chan, is made to seem even more ludicrous, especially when juxtaposed against the sombre Nine Minutes to Cry. A sobering moment in the otherwise toxically upbeat show, the song uses testimony from traumatised Facebook content moderators forced to watch all manner of horrifying videos, the title itself a reference to the short, supervised break they were allowed to take once a day.
The innovative stage design and production help maintain the show’s edge, transforming each song into a YouTuber’s streaming studio, a congressional hearing and more. However, by using pre-existing online content in its purest form to shape the songs the DNA of social media, at times, crosses over into the show, occasionally overwhelming the audience with unintelligible lyrics set against pounding, meme-ready electronica and auto-tune.
A sharp, relevant musical that does not shy away from the difficult questions of our engagement with one of the most powerful forces on the planet today, Public Domain never strays into preaching, instead leaving its viewers feeling decidedly uneasy with a wry smile and a catchy tune.
Photo: Jane Hobson
Public Domain is at Vaudeville Theatre from 27th May until 30th May 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.