It doesn’t exactly scream out a promising concept; four strangers being trapped in a public urinal for an hour, played out in real time as connections and understandings of each other are gradually born.
Public – The Musical from queer collective Stroud and Notes, headed up by composer Kyla Stroud, has already won a Vaults Origins award from its short London run earlier this year. It has a delightful score, winning performances, and some slightly on-the-nose writing. Like encountering strangers being forced to make small talk, it starts to run out of steam as the clock ticks down. Yet its four strong quartet — Andrew Patrick-Walker, Alicia Corrales, Annabel Marlow, and Hugo Rolland — allow it to remain singing.
When the gender-neutral toilet door jams, making captives of four strangers, they are faced with an hour of making dreaded small talk. Conflict happens, with student activist and fine artist Zo desperate to be an ally for those who ‘don’t have a voice’ even as she remains blind to her privilege of ‘gap yah’s‘ and being ‘currently between dreams’, non-binary Laura is worried they have just caught their girlfriend cheating on them again, while queer Finlay is freaking out that he has missed his universal credit meeting and will not be able to afford the sanctions coming his way. Meanwhile, Andrew just can’t believe women are allowed to share the same toilet as him.
Within this framework, themes around gender binaries, climate change, and toxic masculinity are explored. In a short one-hour framework, this often feels like an ‘introduction to’ series, nothing being given the time to be fleshed out which means sometimes the discussions can feel a bit simplistic, but then have you ever found yourself having these conversations with strangers? Most importantly, each of the characters is relatable and full of the vulnerabilities of being human.
What ultimately makes the show a success is the terrific melodies and vocal talents of the company that makes each song a banger. There is a thrilling conflict duet from Patrick-Walker (whose vocals are particularly top-notch) and Marlow that has a similar vibe to “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent, while Corrales and new graduate Rowland also sing the hell out of their numbers.
It may remain a touch simplistic, but in a time where there is a new renaissance for British musicals, it is reassuring to see a show with plenty of cracking melodies.