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Unrestricted Views: Jubilee, Royal Exchange

November 18th, 2017

jubilee17f“We should all be angry. Why aren’t we angry all the time?”

Derek Jarman’s classic punk film Jubilee was released in 1977. I hated it. Bewildered and repelled in equal measure, I just didn’t ‘get it’. Forty years on, I find myself sitting in the Royal Exchange theatre to watch Chris Goode’s stage adaptation. Although aware of a definite sense of trepidation, I am also excited at the prospect of a ‘free-spirited, gloriously rude, take-no-prisoners blast of a show’ (as the publicity describes it).

The pre-set establishes an almost magical mood, and the dissonant elements signal that this production intends to be faithful to Jarman’s original, bewildering vision; the theatre is adorned with graffiti and a strange, ghostly, wordless singing echoes around the space. ‘Queen Elizabeth’ (played by Torah Willcox) sits at a desk, peering into a vanity mirror while a shabby mattress lies stranded on the floor nearby.

The first scene involves a Shakespearian exchange between the Queen and her advisor, in which the angel Ariel is invoked and appears on the stairs, dressed in true punk attire and hair-style. Then, as they withdraw to survey what follows from the First Gallery, some 1970s-type streetlights descend from the ceiling and the main characters explode onto the stage; ‘Mad’, toting her gun, ‘Angel’ and ‘Sphinx’ (two brothers) who immediately strip each other naked and roll around incestuously on the shabby mattress, and ‘Crabs’, revelling in a shopping trolley. It is loud and wild and angry and ‘in-yer-face’ – and dares us to be offended or shocked or amused or exhilarated (or all of the above.) So far, so Derek Jarman. But it is the introduction of Travis Alabanza’s ‘Amyl Nitrate’ that brings Jarman’s Jubilee into 2017. Throughout the show, Alabanza delivers some blistering political diatribes, reflecting on last forty years with icy panache and passion. Addressing the audience directly, it is also she who introduces self-awareness into the proceedings, fully acknowledging the irony of this celebration of punk anarchy and vitriol being unleashed on a polite, middle-class theatre audience.

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