Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: Public – The Musical, Stroud & Notes, EdFringe 2023 ★★★★★

Four strangers find themselves trapped inside a gender neutral bathroom with little more than each other for company – what’s the worse that can happen? Identities, politics, personalities and views on biscuits soon collide in this sensational piece of new writing. This fresh piece manages to deftly portray the conversational tangling and untangling of characteristics, identities, and lived experiences which have come to define political and social debates in recent years in Britain. All the while, the four performers maintain a hair-raising musical register with instantly iconic earworm melodies that you just won’t be able to flush away. This is an absolute treasure.

Alicia Corrales’ fretful marketing guru Laura finds themself panicking after seeing their girlfriend kissing someone else on their way to work – leaping into a public bathroom for a moment of clarity. Clarity soon turns to chaos, however, as they slam the door behind them and find Andrew Patrick-Walker’s eponymous finance bro-cum-cyclist accusing them of being in the wrong gendered bathroom. The duo are not alone, however, and debate soon launches as Annabel Marlow’s wannabe activist Zo chimes in on Laura’s behalf to set Andrew right, while Hugo Rolland’s neurodivergent creative Finley just needs to get to his meeting.

We ricochet from gender politics to whether KitKat is a biscuit or not, songs about less-than-innocuous graffiti and what makes a protest meaningful. The sheer breadth of topics covered in the debates between our four unlikely stall-fellows is just astounding, and yet it never feels too light, never too shallow, instead the perfectly tuned script covers all the facets (or faucets, if you prefer) of modern life and pre-conceptions about identity that cause trickiness, complication, debate, and anger. Zo’s constant attempts to recondition Andrew into using Laura’s preferred pronouns leaves everyone feeling uncomfortable, as Laura comes to tell her that she is dehumanising the debate. Meanwhile, Finley is unable to find work because of struggles with his mental health, and fears about stigmatisation see him wind up shutting himself in a cubicle.

The writing from Kyla Stroud, Hannah Sands, and Natalie Stroud delivers punchy quips that aim directly at the heart of the debates they cover – the jokes never feel at the expense of anyone’s characteristics, abilities, or views, and yet it is still so clear what has led each of these characters down the paths that they’ve found themselves in life. Every one of them has a revelation in the grisly grime of the public bathroom, and yet none of them lose themselves because of it. The philosophy of this show seems to be that there is a way we can act kindly toward each other that means we can understand a little more without ever sacrificing what has made us who we are. Preconceptions are broken down when we all peel back some of the problematic and regretful parts of our lives and open ourselves up to what has brought other people to where they are. The humour is crafted with a kind touch, and slips in between the gaps of the emotional parts at all the right times.

Physical performance in this play is layered deep – every slight move comes across calculated to add a neat little quirk to the characters. You could easily spend the whole piece looking around at the characters’ reactions and you’d have just as good a time as following the narrative. Corrales’ Laura offers up a zero-to-hero character arc that neatly sits in the background as tensions reach fever pitch everywhere else. Marlow and Patrick-Walker offer up slightly more amplified characterisations than the other pair. Zo tweaks at every chance to add to her superiority complex, and Marlow’s private school drawl is an instant comedic hit. Patrick-Walker unwinds his finance-bro-in-cycling-lycra character perfectly across the hour, from bloke-ish vulgarity to eventual, and needed vulnerability. Hugo Rolland’s Finley slips from mysterious outsider to loveable creative with ease. Each character is three-dimensional, completely plausible, and fine-tuned.

A high quality of vocal performance was clearly a focus in creating this piece – with each song moulding around the performers’ voices with ease, feeling almost as if it was written just for them. The snappiness and quality of the spoken parts of the piece is easily matched by the razor-sharp lyricism on display. As story moments, the songs range from providing passionate voice to characters in moments of heated debate as between Zo and Andrew, to revelatory solos that uncover the tender vulnerabilities of each one of them, as when Finley reveals his nervous disposition. The utter stand-outs are Andrew’s cubicle serenade that explains his jaded nature, and Laura’s red hot cathartic voice note to their lover.

Patrick-Walker’s insanely satisfying tenor vocal range reaches fever pitch, and delivers gorgeous puncturing notes regularly, to the audience’s immediate delight. Annabel Marlow counters him in one tune with a deliciously tuneful swing retort. The musical style is broadly showtune-esque, but carries itself with sharp melodies that satisfy immediately. There will be some quick to say this show is a crowd-pleaser, but I feel that the cerebral undertones of the show’s themes are quickly caught by whip-smart humour and hair-raising vocals, leaving something that is deeply creative and artistically stunning.

Public – The Musical is a timely and thoughtful unwinding of what pulls us apart, with hair-raising vocals and uproarious performances. With tender compassion, it shows how we can help put each other back together again. This is just a spectacular creative dream.

Recommended Drink: Public – The Musical is a Flaming Dr. Pepper – fizzing, potent, dazzling, and lots and lots of fun.

Catch Public – The Musical at Pleasance Courtyard – Pleasance Two until August 28th (not the 9th or 21st) at 18:30. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together novel-length reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2023), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them