Among the many Fringe shows turning the current new stories of the day into show material, arguably none of them are as current as Public – The Musical. On the 13th of August, the UK Government announced that it ‘confirmed measures to reverse the rise of gender-neutral toilets as part of wider efforts to protect single sex spaces’. It has been impossible to ignore the rise in news stories with an intense interest in Trans and LGBTQ+ rights. Public – The Musical tackles this topic head on by imagining what would happen if four people from opposing ideologies and backgrounds happened to be stuck in one of these gender-neutral toilets against their will.
With an hour to kill until maintenance arrives, the group are forced to confront their own assumptions and learn to see things ‘From the Other Side’. We’ve got the walking contradiction gap-yah campaigner Zo played by Annabel Marlow who garners the most laughs from the audience. The opposing force is Lycra-clad Andrew (Andrew Patrick-Walker), a man’s man who has a job in finance and doesn’t understand pronouns but can reach incredible high notes. We also have Hugo Rolland as Finlay, to represent gay and anxious young people while Alicia Corrales’ Laura is non-binary and lacking in self-confidence.
It is an interesting premise, one that has been used in many other mediums to build tension and explore difficult topics within a confined space. From the offset it is difficult to see just how these conversations will somehow happen organically because as soon as the problem is discovered the characters retreat onto their phones to pass the time in silence which is pretty realistic.
Somehow over the course of the hour each character takes a turn in sharing their deepest traumas with complete strangers through song, which does feel formulaic at times. Created by queer-led theatre collective Stroud & Notes, the soulful pop music ranges from explosive opener ‘Minute by Minute’ to the jazzy sassy back and forth tune ‘From the Other Side’, reminiscent of ‘Take Me or Leave Me’ from Rent.
Although the one hour timer does work, the show did feel like it was missing one final closing number that could round out the story and give some of the characters as complete a redemption arc others. It’s testament to the writing that you do want to spend more time locked away with these characters to bask in their new learned comradery.
The show uses cookie-cutter stereotypes to explore stories of identity, connection and compassion, which does add to the comedic elements but it is also so self-aware that it feels very on the nose when at one point characters teach each other about pronouns, allyship, and slurs. This may be some audience members first time hearing such a frank conversation about this topic that has no spare time to dance around nuance, but it is also an idealised version of events.
At its core is a heartfelt lesson, that we are all human and trying is enough, told by an eye-poppingly talented cast. Whether that message will reach the right ears is another story.
Public – The Musical runs until Mon 28 Aug 2023 at Pleasance Courtyard – Pleasance 2 at 18:30