Jubilee, Lyric, Hammersmith, London, review: In the Lyric Hammersmith's fine tradition of reanimating controversial classics

Chris Goode's stage adaptation of Derek Jarman's 1977 punk classic 'Jubilee', recasts Toyah Willcox who played Mad in the film, as Queen Elizabeth I, who time-travels to today

Chris Goode’s reimagining of Derek Jarman’s 1977 punk classic recasts Toyah Willcox, who played Mad in the film, as at time-travelling Elizabeth I
Chris Goode’s reimagining of Derek Jarman’s 1977 punk classic recasts Toyah Willcox, who played Mad in the film, as at time-travelling Elizabeth I

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” says Amyl Nitrate, towards the end of the end of Chris Goode’s raucous, shrewd and free-wheelingly rude reimagining of Derek Jarman’s cult movie. “In 1977, someone shouting “NO FUTURE” sounded like the most extreme nihilistic punk. Forty years on, it’s a fact. It’s mainstream climate science.” To mark the ruby jubilee of Jubilee (1978), Goode’s stage version – a co-production between his company, the Lyric, Hammersmith and Manchester’s Royal Exchange — does more than pay tribute to the inherent theatricality in Jarman’s apocalyptic vision or recreate the paradoxical ethos of a broken Britain sodden with royalist propaganda during that flag-waving year.

The show updates the proceedings to now and blames the ageing punk generation for not resisting the state-approved and more pernicious forms of nihiliism that lie behind many of our current woes. (How did they vote on Brexit, I wonder?) It convenes a conversation between life then and life today that is not always balanced. Understandable that the young are castigated for being hypnotised by their glowing screens (“The world is going to end and no one will notice”) but shouldn’t it be pointed out that digital technology also promotes political activism in ways hitherto inconceivable? A strong case is made, though, that it’s high time for another wave of youthful revolt.

Chloe Lamford’s design transforms the Lyric into a giant in-the-round squat, scrawled with graffiti. In the film, pyromaniac Mad was played by Toyah Willcox in one of her earliest screen performances. The production eloquently acknowledges the passing of the years by recasting her as Queen Elizabeth I, who time-travels to today and witnesses the mayhem in her realm from a box, descending to join with the company in a rousing rendition of the Toyah Willcox hit “I Want to Be Free” as a finale. Our MC for the evening is the excellent Travis Alabanza, as Amyl Nightrate, a confrontational figure in a powder-pink twinset, a long rope of pearls and high-altitude bootees. This character, gentle and intimidating, is the brains behind the marauding girl gang with the penchant for suffocating one-night-stands and the most articulate mouthpiece for the show’s questions and concerns – such as whether, art would become totally redundant, if you lived a life of integrity where your desires were realised.

There are longueurs in the first half but it would be very ill-advised to leave at the interval. The show develops a a momentum and a musical drive, with the police killing in a night-club of the incestuous brothers Angel and Sphinx (the cavortingly explicit Tom Ross-Williams and Craig Hamilton) and it bloody aftermath. There are pointed references to selling butter on TV and to tower blocks as “nothing more than the most efficient mechanism yet designed for killing poor people’. The textures can be delicate and dreamy. In the Lyric Hammersmith’s fine tradition of reanimating controversial classics.

Lyric, Hammersmith, London. Until 10 March, 020 8741 6850 tickets@lyric.co.uk

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