Adapted by Chris Goode, Jubilee transports the original screenplay by Derek Jarman and James Whaley to the stage of the Lyric Hammersmith. Released the year after the Silver Jubilee in 1977, the cult film was inspired by the 1970’s punk rock aesthetic. Now 40 years on, Goode celebrates this movement, DIY Fashion and wild sex by accelerating at full tilt to the social and political climate of 2017.
When Queen Elizabeth I summons her court alchemist to show her England in the future, she is carried to the dystopian streets of London by Shakespeare’s Ariel – a place ruled by a rapacious girl-gang with a homicidal appetite. Mass media tycoon Borgia Ginz controls the press and owns most of the capital, the police force has been corrupted and war has broken out between nihilism and art. Heteronormativity is damned, music is dead, and history is being rewritten by Amyl Nitrate, a transgender revisionist who plays with fire alongside her highly sexed comrades. Apocalypse seems to be the only viable solution when there is no future: “welcome to Jubilee.”
Designed by Chloe Lamford, the stage acts as a perfect void between history, fantasy and song. Set in the round, dismembered mannequins guard a slovenly squat, awash with graffiti and home-grown rubble. The Queen, once sat at a table crowded with lit candles and various artefacts, is led to a royal box where she can observe the chaos from above. Primed with a globe and the flag of Great Britain, a desk sits upon a grimy dais as it smirks at a set of double doors in the back, lounging beneath a high platform secured by scaffolding and a flight of stairs. This is an anti-establishment establishment.
Dressed in a rose twinset and pearls, Amyl (played by Travis Alabanza) addresses the bank of spectators as anarchy ensues almost immediately. A pair of incestuous brothers are tangled in post-coital nakedness while a Chupa Chup is sucked fervently by a lovelorn nymphomaniac as she hangs upside down in her chair. Ill-clad and dangerous, a pyromaniac with flame-red hair brandishes a machine gun and the crown jewels are held aloft for all to see. Bare mattresses cushion bare chests, monopoly fails to monopolise hands constantly attached to a technological device and still, humanity hurtles towards the unknown. Both broken and made alive by the revolution, Viv (played by the brilliant Lucy Ellinson) is a radical performance artist whose eyes swim with the entire universe – the same cosmos that this play sticks its middle finger to. Patriotism is both celebrated and degraded by Alabanza in an unforgettable routine with a giant Union Jack, and the talented teenager Kid (Yandass Ndlovu) infuses an infectious energy into the pace of the production which never ceases.
Jubilee is superb in its metatheacricality, realising the elements of stagecraft present within Jarman’s film. The script cleverly observes the forty years of cultural change since ’77 and is playful in its interaction with members of the audience. It is absurd, with a peculiar, ravenous kind of beauty and it will leave you craving a cigarette lit by a blaze fiercer than hell on earth.
Jubilee is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until March 10 2018
Photo: Tristram Kenton