“a wonderfully crafted musical that ultimately surrenders itself to its audience”
“One small step for man” or “one small step for a man”? Whatever Neil Armstrong said, it’s etched in humanity’s collective memory forever more. People prefer the poetic balance of the former even though Armstrong insisted he said the latter – but there is no debate that Apollo 11’s moon landing over fifty years ago was “one giant leap for mankind”.
Chicago housewife Diana (Wendi Peters) was watching the blurred, monochrome images on her television screen on that night in the summer of 1969, whilst also gazing at the same crescent moon hanging in the night sky, framed by the confines of her suburban window. In an epiphanic moment she sees her own life, with her husband Gerard, as humdrum, a series of small steps. She wants her own giant leap and, unable to resist the tidal force of the moment, she wanders out into the night with just her purse and her innocence.
‘The Grey Area’ Theatre Company’s new musical is a charming and intimate journey through the mind of a conflicted woman. She is simultaneously awestruck yet weary; an ingénue who never thought she would live so long. Wendi Peters gives a fine and forceful performance that exposes the crystallised layers of her character. She winds up at the ‘Hotel Constellation’, blows a week’s grocery money on one night and tosses away her diary, all the while being admonished by the voices in her head. Rebecca McKinnis, Jordan Frazier and Phil Adèle represent these voices, as well as switching into the peripheral characters that surround Diana’s life, old and new. McKinnis, as Diana’s sophisticated but morally dubious neighbour deftly morphs into the surly hotel receptionist. Similarly, Adèle, another friend and neighbour in Diana’s previous life becomes a Vietnam veteran clouding his trauma in dope-smoke. Frazier’s hotel maid is the guiding hand that guides Diana through the maze of her new experiences. Far from being supporting characters or the chorus, their studied and varied performances are integral to the shifting tides of the show.
Neil Bartram’s score is, at times, a touch too gentle but like Brian Hill’s book, it isn’t shooting for the moon. There is an underlying reserve that is refined rather than flamboyant. Certain numbers stand out, such as “The Invisible Man” or “Is That Me?” – which oozes with a universal sadness. Peters mines the emotional gravity of the songs until there is very little left.
“You Are Here” is an odyssey and an oddity. It basks a lot of the time in the Sea of Tranquility, although a final twist towards the end of the show does propel it into another orbit, and the motifs and meanings take on a whole new shape. It’s a wonderfully crafted musical that ultimately surrenders itself to its audience. It is a voyage of self-discovery; whether we take optimism and hope with us, or grief and regret, is up to us. Whether a giant leap or a small step, it is a welcome return to live performance as we make our own journeys into the night again to London’s theatreland.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Callum Heinrich
You Are Here
Southwark Playhouse until 12th June
Additionally there are two live stream performances on Saturday 22nd May at 3pm and 7.30pm
“it’s a refreshing change, really, to find a musical that doesn’t shy away from unpleasant truths of contemporary life”
Public Domain is the Southwark Playhouse’s latest production, live streamed from the theatre so that we can view it safely in our own homes. It’s a peppy, up to the minute, musical take on the joys and pitfalls of social media. And appropriately, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole piece is performed by just two actors, Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke. Clarke and Forristal also wrote this piece, taking as their inspiration, words and composite characters posting on social media over the last year.
The show opens with a couple of everyday millennials enthusing about the joys of Facebook. They’re looking for connections—with just about anyone. “Just like that we felt a little less alone” they sing, and ironic tone apart, much of the theme of Public Domain seems to be focused on this generation’s fears of not getting enough attention. The show ranges from deftly amplified scenes portraying vloggers on Youtube talking about the anxiety of posting enough, to uneasy musings about whether they would really be better off on Instagram. Francesca Forristal’s manic vlogger is particularly well done, and nicely contrasts with Jordan Paul Clarke’s perennially depressed one, wondering aloud whether all this soul baring to the camera is just free therapy.
All this manic depressive zeal can’t last, of course, and Public Domain soon starts examining the more problematic side of social media. Who manages, and thus controls, all this deeply personal data? Forristal and Clarke switch to American accents, and in an instant, Mark Zuckerberg, earnest CEO of Facebook, and his equally earnest physician wife, Priscilla Chan, are on stage singing “how lucky we are”. Their fervent declaration that “Tomorrow is gonna be better than today” seems unlikely, however, given that their portrayal of happy family life is in-terspersed with scenes of Congress grilling Zuckerberg on rights to privacy. How safe (and how true) is all that data that people upload onto Facebook? From themes of Fake News and data misuse, Public Domain takes an easy leap from Youtube, Facebook and Instagram into the unglued an-tics of TikTok. As Clarke gives us a musical tour of this new social media app, Matt Powell’s video wizardry superimposes TikTok examples on Clarke’s performance. This is a departure from projecting onto a simple backdrop on stage, as one would during a conventional production, and it works quite well. It is, indeed, just one example in Public Domain where the creative team become mothers of invention through the necessity of having to live stream theatre.
Public Domain is a bold attempt at a new kind of theatre forged in irony for our uncertain times. Its sparse lines are seen throughout with a cut down cast, economical direction (Adam Lenson) and in set and costume design (Libby Todd). The songs and lyrics allow more extravagance of expression, but most of the work in this show is carried on the capable shoulders of Clarke and Forristal. And it’s a refreshing change, really, to find a musical that doesn’t shy away from unpleasant truths of contemporary life, even while it celebrates the madness of our angst ridden era.