- Vaudeville Theatre
- 27th May - 30th May 2021
Public domain markets itself as a “dark, funny, verbatim musical about the internet”. It aims to capture rare and chaotic nature of the internet as experienced by teenagers and millennials through the medium of song. Unfortunately, as with many of these things it comes across instead like a historical re-enactment. 200 middle aged men in tights were never going to look like the real New Model Army but as none of us were there, we can forgive the slight anachronisms, out of ignorance or gentle paternalism. Unfortunately, when up close with two 30 years LARPing as teenagers one is not inclined to be so generous. Each attempt to sound relevant (“stay swaggy”) feels like nails on a blackboard.
The lacklustre concept is hardly supported by the lack of plot. Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke we are told will be playing archetypal Millennial and GenZ(ed) influencers. What we are not told is that along the way we will be treated to re-enactments of Senate hearings, interviews with Facebook content moderators and even Mark Zuckerberg and Pricilla Chan themselves. Plot fades into the tedious background.
What is clear is that the writers (Francesca Forristal and Jordan Paul Clarke as well) did not know what they were trying to achieve. It was never clear who the target of the jokes was meant to be. Are we meant to love or hate social media? What about Zuckerberg? Is he someone we should sympathise with, struggling to answer idiotic questions from senators, or hate him for making content moderators watch child porn for days on end? The script, verbatim transcriptions of genuine interviews and videos, provides no answer. We are invited to listen to everyone’s perspective and come away no clearer than when we went in. By forfeiting their responsibility to render life more interesting the playwrights chose to give us spoken language, sung in a secular plainsong, with no filter or gilding. Indeed, at some points they seem to have deliberately chosen lines as awkward as possible. Some words (emoji, iguana, Tik-Tok) will never rhyme and jut out of songs like barbs.
Elena Cresci wrote in The Guardian “When it comes to memes, there’s a rule: It is dead as soon as the think pieces come out.” A musical that feels like the cremation.