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Public Domain

Public Domain

★★★★

Online from Southwark Playhouse

Public Domain

Public Domain

Online from Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 16th January 2021

★★★★

 

“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.

 

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by The Other Richard

 


Public Domain

Available to stream from www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk from Tuesday 19 to Sunday 24 January

 

Previously reviewed by Dominica:
The Tempest | ★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | March 2020
Bird | ★★ | Cockpit Theatre | September 2020
Bread And Circuses | ★★½ | Online | September 2020
Minutes To Midnight | ★★★★ | Online | September 2020
Persephone’s Dream | ★★★ | Online | September 2020
The Trilobite | ★★★★ | Online | September 2020
Paradise Lost | ★★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | September 2020
The Legend of Moby Dick Whittington | ★★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Potted Panto | ★★★ | Garrick Theatre | December 2020
Magnetic North | ★★★★ | Online | December 2020

 

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The Incident Room

★★★★

New Diorama Theatre

The Incident Room

New Diorama Theatre

Reviewed – 13th February 2020

★★★★

 

“a sleek, high-value production that prods the audience to ask for their own response to institutionalised problems”

 

It’s 1974. The UK murder detection rate stands at over 90%; the equal pay act is shortly to come into force and Peter Sutcliffe is about to begin his reign of terror on West Yorkshire women. Olivia Hirst and David Byrne’s new play, The Incident Room, comes down from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe  to explore the true story of Britain’s largest ever manhunt and highlight the institutional sexism and incompetence that dogged the West Yorkshire force undertaking it.

The events unfold in Millgarth Incident Room in Leeds between 1977 and 1981. Running the room is Megan Winterburn (Charlotte Melia) – a smart, thirty-something sergeant who is continually overlooked for promotion in favour of the affable yet inept Andrew Laptew (Jamie Samuel). All the while the two men calling the shots – Dick Holland (Ben Eagle) and the increasingly frayed George Oldfield (Colin R Campbell) – resort to ever more audacious means to catch the killer.

Co-directors Beth Flintoff and David Byrne orchestrate the cast brilliantly with slick movement and moments of tense conflict while building the freneticism of the hunt. Campbell provides a particularly strong performance as the crumbling man at the helm. The floor to ceiling filing cabinets and faithful recreation of a 1970s office in Patrick Connellan’s set provide the claustrophobic atmosphere of those who toiled there whilst alluding to one of the key narratives that emerged from this case. Zakk Hein’s digital design is equally impressive – using sweeping shadows to show time’s passage; and archival footage of the real hunt to remind us that we are witnessing a re-enactment of real-life events.

The incompetence of the West Yorkshire police in failing to apprehend the Yorkshire Ripper (who was interviewed on nine separate occasions) is well documented. However, what Hirst and Byrne uncovered while exploring this story is the more pressing issue of institutional sexism. Their script subtly reveals how each character is complicit in its maintenance. From the old-boy’s-club thinking of George Oldfield – ‘when you’re doing my job, you’re always looking for men you can trust’, to the shrugging complacency of the men who do nothing and finally the strange mix of weariness and guilt of Megan Winterburn – who wonders whether it is her responsibility to fight for more.

The Incident Room is a lovingly researched play that uncovers the many real-life issues that arose while chasing the most infamous killer in British policing history. It’s verbatim theatre told in a sleek, high-value production that prods the audience to ask for their own response to institutionalised problems. Go and see it for an engrossing two hours.

Reviewed by Euan Vincent

Photography by The Other Richard

 

The Incident Room

 New Diorama Theatre until 14th March

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The War Of The Worlds | ★★★½ | January 2019
Operation Mincemeat | ★★★★★ | May 2019
Art Heist | ★★★½ | October 2019
Joan Of Leeds | ★★★★ | December 2019
Antigone | ★★★★★ | January 2020

 

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