Jubilee

Adapted by Chris Goode from the original screenplay by Derek Jarman and James Whaley
Lyric Hammersmith and Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Lyric Hammersmith

Toyah Wilcox leading the Cast of Jubilee Credit: Tristram Kenton
Travis Alabanza Credit: Tristram Kenton
Temi Wilkey and Travis Alabanza Credit: Tristram Kenton

The late Derek Jarman had a reputation as an iconic but iconoclastic filmmaker but, even by his standards, Jubilee was eccentric and frequently any meanings were too deeply buried for common or garden viewers to mine. It is now probably best remembered for a cast that included punk idols Toyah Wilcox and Adam Ant, along with a dedicated team from the acting profession amongst whom was the late Ian Charleson.

40 years on, Chris Goode has taken the original film script, which Jarman wrote with James Whaley, and updated it for a fresh generation. Give the new writer-director credit, what should have been an unintelligible, unruly mess is always over the top, frequently rather fun and conveys some timely messages to its audience today.

Many of those present will not even have been born in the days when punk threatened to change British society forever. Like Queen Elizabeth, whose pontifications along with those of her alchemist and necromancer John Dee and ethereal Ariel frame the modern scenes, it is merely a short historical note that may well have passed them by.

In a happy connection with the original, punk Queen Toyah Wilcox embodies the Virgin Queen having played Mad on celluloid so long ago. She also provides one of the evening’s highlights with a brief but lively rendition of “I Want to Be Free”.

Their vision of the future is truly nightmarish, particularly for those of us who know it as our own present. Most of the drama takes place in a Chloe Lamford-designed squalid squat that stretches beyond the proscenium arch, with the audience on three sides, the usual stalls covered by a special construction that sees them almost seamlessly bleeding into the circle.

Ruled over by Sophie Stone’s mildly tyrannical Bod, this is a far from safe place where clothing is spectacular when worn but frequently regarded as unnecessary, while sexuality of every kind is flaunted, possibly as a powerful political gesture.

The central figures are Amyl Nitrate, played with gusto by Travis Alabanza, a trans performance artist who hits her zenith in a rendition of “Rule Britannia” that will have traditionalists spluttering, and Temi Wilkey in the role of Mad, a figure who seems wild even in this company. The best of the support comes from Rose Wardlaw playing crabs and Lucy Ellinson, Ariel/Viv both of whom get repeated moments to shine.

The events are largely irrelevant, the impressions and political statements of far greater importance, as the lunatics begin to take over the asylum, or at least anarchists rebel against the dullness of society today.

This is the kind of 2½-hour-long happening that can easily frustrate and it is probably best to sit back and allow the drama to flow over you, taking away some memorable aural and physical impressions, while enjoying the energy exuded by the whole cast, under the free range direction of Goode, as they steep themselves in Derek Jarman’s invention and attempt to make some sense out of it.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher