Review by Carly Fisher
Hearing that the latest ‘it’ musical of the fringe is about four strangers stuck in a gender neutral public bathroom will surprise some and be expected by others…it is a fringe after all. Written by queer theatre collective Stroud and Notes (Kyla Stroud, Natalie Stroud and Hannah Sands), Public uses its one hour platform at the fringe to quickly transcend from small talk to the big issues on the tips of many tongues at the moment - climate change and denial, toxic masculinity, gender expression and the seeming division between Gen Z and everyone else.
Though extremely popular, selling out most shows, by saying the ‘it’ musical, that is not to imply that the show is completely without flaws but as the company’s first endeavour, it is a very strong start! There are some minor flaws - for example, it is hard to really feel the stakes are as heightened as the characters make them seem when we know that the whole time frame is one hour. The conversations are quite predictable and the outcomes therefore follow suit, and for some audiences, this will detract from the show…not for me. I think that composer Kyla Stroud has proven well and truly to be one to watch from this. The songs are fun, witty, offer great musicality and genuinely advance the storyline. Some songs could use a little polish at the end of the song just to really make it sound finished but fringe is a place to play, develop and perfect and Public could have an enormous future.
A large part of the show’s success in its Edinburgh Fringe run is down to the very strong characterisation offered by each of the four performers. Alicia Corrales plays introverted Laura whose partner may be cheating on them and who worries whether anyone in their office will even notice that they are missing. Corrales offers a beautifully natural performance and shows great character growth as their Laura finds their voice more and more.
Andrew Patrick-Walker takes on the lycra adorned, masc, Andrew who seems never to be able to say the right thing in this bathroom, or be the right thing beyond the bathroom either. Patrick-Walker is a major surprise and a fantastic inclusion in this cast with vocals that will stun you. Again, Patrick-Walker’s character work is very strong allowing for the opportunity to really move the audience as he slowly tries what he can to learn what he does not yet understand.
Hugo Rolland brings a very nervous Finley to life, a person struggling with crippling anxiety and panic attacks just trying to find what he can do and what he is good at. Rolland has a wonderful ability to really find the light and shade in different moments of the piece and follow them to give his performance great tonal diversity. This ability to shift with the moment allows his performance to be really authentic, leaning the least of the four into the archetype of his character.
And finally, rounding out the cast, Annabel Marlow is the quintessential Gen Z, activist, artist and dreamer Zo. Marlow is an excellent comedian, she knows exactly when and how to get the laughs and she milks it all that she can through the show. She is captivating to watch - we all know someone like this character at the moment - and she plays with total dedication managing to not only get laughs but to get a lot of heart too. Marlow often stole the stage for me - a tough thing to achieve amongst this talented cast.
Working with a minimal set, the Creative team has done well to find ways to indicate those moments of privacy vs the group time and to find opportunities for characters to escape to regroup without ever being able to leave the stage. Director, Hannah Sands, has much to be proud of in the way that they have managed to utilise the space to play with the stakes of each conversation and the way that they have guided their cast to fine tune these characters so brilliantly.
If this is the first offering from this new company, keep your eye on them!! I anticipate that there are many more bold, important yet fun, accessible and thought provoking works to come from them. For a first Edinburgh Fringe as a team, this show is a coup. Congratulations to all involved.