Review: PUBLIC The Musical, VAULT Festival

PUBLIC The Musical may be a work in progress at VAULT Festival but it feels like a show with much promise already

“We’re making…small talk”

This year’s VAULT has thrown up some crackers in terms of new musical theatre writing – In Clay and The Phase being two of my shows of the festival. And at the last, they’ve uncovered another one as PUBLIC The Musical entered the Crescent for two work-in-progress showings which suggest something very exciting is in the offing for this creative team.

Stroud & Notes’ PUBLIC takes place in real time in the realest of locations – a public bathroom in the middle of Victoria Park. Four strangers find themselves needing to use the facilities but when the door handle breaks off as they’re trying to leave, the hour-long wait for the maintenance team to arrive (amazing work from the council!) leaves them with little opportunity but to get to know each other.

It might be a touch contrived as a set-up but hey, it’s a musical. And from the driving chords of the very first song, you soon buy into the conceit because Kyla Stroud’s score is an absolute corker even at this early stage. Described as pop/rock but with hints of r’n’b and soul blended in as well by my reckoning, there’s a fantastic musical and lyrical confidence here which really sets a distinct identity for the show from the start.

There’s also a real pleasure in hearing so many of the songs including some if not all of the four voices of the company. Solos are all well and good but there’s something spine-tingling about the theatrical blend of harmonies and duets and PUBLIC makes the most of its setting to exploit these opportunities well. Maddison Bulleyment, Lemuel Knights, Annabel Marlow and Andrew Patrick-Walker all delivering astonishing work given their limited time with the material.

Bookwise, the show breaks down a raft of contemporary concerns in its character studies – anxiety, toxic masculinity, pronouns, the climate crisis, allyship, love, life and Instagram Lives. There’s perhaps a little neatness to the way in which most all topics get done and dealt with in the space of a song but in less than an hour, what else are ya gonna do? For though on this evidence I could happily sit through another hour of PUBLIC, there’s something to be said for leaving the audience wanting more. I can’t wait to see what’s next for this one.

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
PUBLIC The Musical is booking at VAULT Festival until 18th March

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