No one wants to spend an extended period of time in a public restroom, less so with a group of strangers, yet this is the concept at the heart of Public – The Musical from Stroud & Notes productions. Complete with an up-tempo soundtrack and cast of four impressive up-and-coming talents, Public – The Musical is a pleasant watch, yet in its quest for diversity and representation, can feel like a somewhat condescending box-ticking exercise.
Four strangers find themselves trapped in a gender neutral public restroom with an hour to fill until they are freed from their unhygienic prison. Straight while male Andrew, non-binary Laura, social justice warrior Zo, and anxiety-ridden gay man Finlay find themselves desperately searching for common ground to pass the time.
Public – The Musical‘s narrative spends its first beats highlighting the extreme differences in its characters. Cycling gear clad Andrew is alien to the world of anyone other than a straight man, whilst Zo’s upper-class protester façade shows a real lack of care for those around her despite her quest to give the marginalized a voice. People-pleaser Laura struggles to confront their serial-cheater girlfriend, whilst Finlay struggles to cope in the claustrophobic setting resulting in an anxiety-driven breakdown.
Due to the polarising nature of the respective characters, expected narrative beats do occur. Andrew misgenders and fails to understand those around him, despite masking his own relationship problems. Zo (the performer channelling a Catherine O’Hara Moira Rose style line delivery), despite allying herself with multiple communities, struggles to find her own tribe. The narrative make-up of Public – The Musical, whilst finding the comic beats of these character angles, can sometimes feel like a diversity box-ticking exercising than a natural introduction to these people of different orientations, gender identities, or ways of thinking. The characters’ journey to harmony is nonetheless enjoyable to watch, despite a somewhat token feel.
Musical numbers tie in with each character’s respective difficulty or trauma, showcasing the cast’s impressive vocal chops and performance ability. Numbers such as Small Talk are rousing crowd-pleasers, channelling an eighties-inspired powerpop, whilst tracks such as Nervous Disposition and Missing Pieces attempt to tap into a more emotional nerve with mixed success.
Delivered in a punchy hour runtime, Public – The Musical is inventively staged. Limited probs including wheeled trolleys with sketches of toilets and sinks are utilised in the production, helping the set feel vibrant, adaptable and dynamic.
Pleasantly diverting and confidently delivered, Public – The Musical can nonetheless feel forced in the delivery of its narrative themes of compassion, identity and connection.
Public – The Musical runs at the Pleasance Courtyard. Tickets can be ordered here.