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BWW Review: PUBLIC DOMAIN, Southwark Playhouse Online

The verbatim show crafted from posts on the internet explores the good and evil sides of social media

BWW Review: PUBLIC DOMAIN, Southwark Playhouse Online

BWW Review: PUBLIC DOMAIN, Southwark Playhouse OnlineAfter a year where we've probably spent more time on social media than ever before, Public Domain is a rapid whistle-stop tour through the world of Facebook, Instagram and the like. The verbatim show uses snippets from real-life social media posts and news broadcasts to curate scenes that highlight the lighter and darker shades of sharing our lives online.

Directed by Adam Lenson, the show started life as the opening number when it was presented at Newsfeed, a 2019 Southwark Playhouse event. Now in its fully-fledged form, the musical, by Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke, who also perform the show together, examines the many aspects and implications of our online habits.

The scenes flit between the duo playing stereotypical influencers and YouTubers versus prosecutors interrogating Mark Zuckerburg on the activities of the mammoth business he created. We return to two particular influencers multiple times which creates a nice thread through the contrasting scenes.

The themes explored include the following: what it really means to be authentic; the desire to stay relevant; and the rush of finding your community online. This is done through spoken and sung word over punchy musical accompaniment orchestrated by Clarke, Joe Davison and Nikki Davison from Auburn Jam music.

The score is busy, punctuated with digital soundscapes, mirroring the busyness of the internet. The lyrics have been well developed from their original source.

On occasion, particularly in certain choruses, it feels like there is a lot of repetition, despite the writers having the plethora of the internet to choose their source material from. That said, it does mirror the seemingly never-ending amounts of predictable and popular content flooding social media platforms.

The pace is well-pitched, growing more frenetic in nature as the drama comes to a climax. Clarke makes a convincing Zuckerberg and Forristal hilariously impersonates multiple senators trying (and failing) to get their head around cookies and data protection laws when interviewing Zuckerberg.

Libby Todd's set design consists of a central module for joint numbers and scenes plus two adjoined islands towards the back of the theatre. These latter areas aptly replicate the solitude of a content creator's bedroom where they make videos alone for their audience.

Matt Daw's lighting design makes excellent use of LED battens, creating scrolling effects in hues of blue, pink and orange - colours we so often associate with the social media platforms we love and hate. Sudden changes to red have impact when the mood changes to the more serious subject matter.

The show strikes a nice balance of celebrating some of the positives social media has brought to our lives, particularly in COVID times, but isn't afraid to handle less palatable topics, such as the long-term mental health impact on Facebook moderators forced to watch traumatic footage day in, day out.

Matt Powell's video design is a frenzy of footage, much like our feeds and makes thoughtful use of the medium through which the show is broadcast. For example, the decision to occasionally embed the filmed performances within the familiar frame of an online video site instantly informs the audience that we are returning to the story of the two influencers we've seen previously.

For a show crafted from scraps across the internet, Public Domain is a well-curated exploration of the highs and lows of social media and how it has affected society. If The Social Dilemma was a musical, this would be it.

Forristal and Clarke deliver punchy and engaging performances in their multiple roles and deserve this extended encore showing by Southwark Playhouse so more people can see this piece.

Public Domain at Southwark Playhouse available online until 31 January

Check out our guest blog post by Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke about developing the show


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From This Author Fiona Scott