“the model example of what a filmed theatre production should be like”
Papatango once again proved themselves fully deserving of their mighty reputation when Shook hit stages after winning the 2019 prize, with the production amassing widespread critical and audience acclaim. In place of the show’s West End transfer which had to be cancelled, it was instead filmed and will be available to watch throughout February 2021. Does the production translate well to film, though? In a word – absolutely.
Shook follows three young offenders – Jonjo (Josef Davies), Cain (Josh Finan), and Riyad (Ivan Oyik) – who are taking parenting classes from Grace (Andrea Hall) in the hope of being good fathers when they get out of incarceration. The ramifications of their murky pasts collide with their aspirations for their futures, forming a poignantly scathing critique of a system that seems more focused on punishment than potential.
It’s Samuel Bailey’s debut full-length play, but you wouldn’t be able to tell – the pacy dialogue consistently feels organic, finding light in dark places while not shying away from frankness where needed. Bailey’s script never punches down, instead ensuring that we root for and empathise with people who are otherwise so often demonised. By giving us a window into these characters’ hopes, jokes, quirks, and fears, Bailey’s script provides vital and stellar humanisation.
The actors elevate this even further. All three men deliver beautifully detailed and textured performances, adding colour and heart to more moments than could be counted. The contrast between Davies explaining the crime he committed with knife-edge tension, and the warmth he displays when playing board games with Riyad is powerful. The moments of weakness and vulnerability that Oyik and Finan pepper into their characters’ bravados are hugely impactful, and are counterpointed excellently by their comedic flairs – particularly whenever they have to demonstrate anything parenting-related in their classes, such as performing CPR or changing a nappy. The dynamic between the three totally moreish, and only gets more nuanced in scenes with Hall’s compassionate but firm Grace.
The direction serves to capture all these moments perfectly – directors George Turvey and James Bobin don’t go overboard with the filming, forgoing any fancy cinematography save for some CCTV view shots between scenes. There’s also an opening sequence of shots highlighting the extraordinary detail of Jasmine Swan’s set design, which effectively helps to establish the place and tone. Shook is maturely and respectfully filmed throughout, ensuring that the cameras are always putting the characters and their story at its centre.
Shook is the model example of what a filmed theatre production should be like – it flawlessly translates the stage experience without losing any of the magic, and there is a lot of magic on offer with this show. Shook is incisive but never preachy, opting instead to lay bare the hearts of a group of people we’re conditioned to think are heartless.
“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.