Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; Tuesday 7th November 2017
First released in 1978, Derek Jarman’s epic film Jubilee proudly elevated the anarchic punk rock culture of Britain in the late 1970s onto the big screen for the whole world to see. The film is widely regarded as a cult classic: a snapshot showing how punk rockers wanted the world to be, as well as now serving as a historic record of one of British fringe culture’s most famous communities at its zenith.
Fast forward to the modern day and director Chris Goode takes Jarman’s concept even further, transforming the spirit of the film into a new production that pushes theatre at Manchester’s Royal Exchange into a whole new realm.
In a major win for whoever took on the challenge of casting the play, Toyah Wilcox – a star of the original 1978 film – plays the role of Queen Elizabeth 1.0, transported four centuries into the future to witness what has become of the country that she rules over.
What she observes is revolutionary chaos. Centred around an unlikely gang of assorted misfits, Jubilee furthers the cause of those who are suppressed and ignored, showing how different the world would be if the tables were turned and those normally on the margins were given a licence to rule as they saw fit.
This is a production that doesn’t hold back in any way. The opening scenes dive straight in with an almost overwhelming onslaught of characters from the fringes of society – those who happily go about their business in the nude, those who don’t think twice about indulging in acts of homosexual incest, those who are transgender but no longer outcasts; though somewhat bewildering at first, once the initial shock subsides the true character of each individual begins to emerge, as it normally would – this serves to effectively neutralise the shock factor and reveals the flamboyant personalities to be as “normal” as anyone else.
The performance moves at high pace and is just so surreal in so many ways, some of the sequences are almost dream-like – a wild assortment of connected scenes, flashy characters and unpredictable sub-plots. Whilst there definitely is an overall plot and story line being played out, on reflection it seems to be almost hidden amongst the richness of the rest of the production. The music and moody sound effects are excellent, and the 3-dimensional set including graffiti plastered all over the walls of the theatre create a believable sense of being submerged in uncontrolled anarchy.
Jubilee is nothing less than a full-scale takeover of the Royal Exchange; a takeover in terms of theatrical form, content, presentation – in fact, in every conceivable way, this play arrogantly and confidently saunters off down a different road and just doesn’t give a shit what anyone says or thinks about it. In doing so, Jubilee is simply exercising the revolutionary mandate of the punk era in which the original concept was first conceived.
The obviously shocking elements of this show may make the headlines, but Jubilee deserves high praise, this is a production that successfully pushes theatre into a very strange and unusual place, a rare achievement that should be celebrated.