Alison Jackson: A Story in the Public Domain

Alison Jackson has made a name for herself creating fake behind-the-scenes photographs and videos of celebrities with look-alike models. With Alison Jackson: A Story in the Public Domain she attempts to extend this idea into a long-form theatre piece. It’s called an ‘opera’, but it has more in common with sketch comedy, except for the fact that there’s only one joke, really, and it’s not very funny.

Once we’re over the initial bemusement of seeing Pippa or Harry onstage, grinding for us, there’s nothing much more of interest

The characters are ones you’re familiar with from celebrity magazines: everyone from Wills, Kate and Harry to Lady Gaga, Madonna and Justin Bieber makes an appearance. There isn’t a narrative: each scene is a stand-alone ‘character study’ (for lack of a better name) of these celebrities away from the camera, at home and at their ease. We see Simon Cowell getting waxed, Rihanna getting waxed, the Queen getting waxed… you get the idea. As innumerable stagehands scurry about changing one large set for another, a screen behind displays more of Jackson’s familiar videos and photographs.

To recorded music, look-alikes prance around in fancy costumes and lip-synch along to recordings of popular opera classics from Carmen, to Papageno, to more Carmen. On the screen behind, the English ‘translation’ is projected. Some of the songs have been recorded with their new English lyrics. It doesn’t really matter though: the lyrics are not overly amusing, well written or insightful. The only interesting celebrity critique came from the second appearance of pseudo-Vladimir Putin, where the violent dance of his backing troupe added a confronting juxtaposition to his denial of wrongdoing.

It’s not just the lyrics that are dull – several of the look-alikes are oddly lacking in any kind of energy, character or charisma. Maybe this is Jackson’s point – the real life people being mimicked are just boring. That may be the aim but it makes for a very lacklustre hour and ten minutes of opera. Additionally, if mediocrity really is Jackson’s aim, she needs to have a word with Justine Viani, a Nigella Lawson look-alike who can actually sing (and how). Viani delivers one of the only live vocal performances: a gorgeous Nessun Dorma altered to be a lament about how the cooking goddess can’t sleep. Again, the lyrics aren’t ground-breaking but the singing and magnetism is at least real and electrifying and the audience respond like a thirsty person in the desert who has unexpectedly stumbled upon water.

The costumes and sets are beautiful and the look-alikes really do look like the people they’re mimicking. But once we’re over the initial bemusement of seeing Pippa or Harry onstage, grinding for us, there’s nothing much more of interest. The PR for this show seems to think we might be scandalised over Alison Jackson: A Story in the Public Domain. However, the only scandal I could spot was how much money was spent on such a lavishly boring production. 

Reviews by Jenny Williams

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The Blurb

An iconoclastic new opera devised and directed by multi award-winning artist, photographer and filmmaker Alison Jackson, internationally renowned for her satirical lookalike images (including BBC2 Bafta winning series Doubletake). Celebrities beware!