Friday, 23 February 2018

Theatre review: Jubilee

I have to admit, Chris Goode's Jubilee didn't appeal to me when the Lyric Hammersmith first added it to their programming, and I only changed my mind about booking it when I found out the cast included Lucy Ellinson - she's someone whose performances I try not to miss. So I approached the show cautiously, but hoping to be pleasantly surprised. But while there's some good moments, this attempt to transplant the spirit of punk into the 21st century falls curiously flat. Derek Jarman's iconic 1978 film, set the year before during the Queen's Silver Jubilee, gets relocated to 2018 and framed - for reasons I'm still not entirely clear on - by a different Queen Elizabeth: Toyah Willcox, from the original film's cast, appears as Elizabeth I, who makes a Faustian request for divine knowledge, and is granted a vision of a group of genderqueer squatters four centuries into her future.

For most of the play she sits in the royal box watching a girl gang comprising Mad (Temi Wilkey,) Crabs (Rose Wardlow) and led by Bod (Sophie Stone,) whose rebellion against cis white straight men regularly goes as far as murder.

Also living there are an incestuous pair of brothers, Sphinx (Craig Hamilton) and Angel (Tom Ross-Williams,) both of whom spend much of the evening in aFULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!plus recent addition Kid (Yandass Ndlovu,) an aspiring rapper Crabs has fallen for. Drag queen Amyl Nitrate (Travis Alabanza) serves as an additional narrator figure, reading from the nihilistic history of the modern world she's been writing. Ellinson's talents feel underused as the angel who brings Elizabeth I to the present, and doubling as performance artist Viv.

In a setup similar to the one used by Shopping and Fucking, Chloe Lamford's design puts two banks of audience on the stage in addition to rejigging the stalls; I was sitting on stage, so theoretically near the midst of the action, but unless you're in one of the front rows there's little danger of the actors coming near you. And "little danger" is perhaps what my problem with the production was, the script is a little too knowing (constant references to itself as a subsidised show trying to shock a middle-class white audience) and the cast a bit too varied in ability (the inexperience of some particularly apparent in their vocal projection - putting the audience on stage and the actors in the auditorium is all well and good but when you mess with a venue's acoustics it might be an idea to mic up your actors) to create the sense that anything could happen. In what felt like a telling moment, the actors are back on stage near the end of the interval, and one snapped at an audience member to hurry up and take her seat - followed immediately by "sorry, that was a bit much, wasn't it?"

For all the violence, incest, near-the-knuckle jokes and nudity - in addition to the naked boys there's also a lot of baps-out moments for the female cast and aSEVERE VADGE WARNING! from Wilkey - very little feels particularly shocking. The nudity fast becomes unremarkable (which admittedly seems to be the point,) the murders get little reaction, and I was surprised to see even a Kevin Spacey joke fall flat without so much as a whiff of "too soon." I didn't actively dislike Jubilee but I was faintly bored by a lot of it; part of the point of this 2018 take on the film is to point the finger at the punks of the film's generation, who are now in their fifties, suggesting their nihilism actively brought about the apocalypse they talked about (there's also a pointed reference to butter adverts.) The new punk generation it proposes isn't that convincing and, in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students' recent actions, doesn't feel accurate either. On this evidence punk's not dead, but it's feeling very sleepy.

Jubilee by Chris Goode, based on the screenplay by Derek Jarman & James Whaley, is booking until the 10th of March at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: Johan Persson, Tristram Kenton.

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