Theatre Review: JUBILEE – Royal Exchange, Manchester

The cast of JUBILEE at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre

Toyah Wilcox stars in Chris Goode’s 40th anniversary production of JUBILEE

When Derek Jarman’s iconic film JUBILEE was released 1978, it captured punk at its dizzy height. Almost forty years later, Chris Goode remixes the wild and artistic piece for a new stage adaptation at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.

JUBILEE takes us to a contemporary London squat where a time-travelling Elizabeth I (Toyah Willcox) observes the misadventures of a group of outcasts who make love and war in a lawless, dystopian vision of modern Britain.

Staying faithful to Jarman and James Whaley’s plot, Goode’s adaptation takes the film’s slapdash storyline and most notorious features – incestuous gay sex, the strangulation of men and rampant nudity – to deliver a wild theatrical experience which focuses on the social and political turmoil of 2017.

Toyah Willcox, who starred in Jarman’s original film, makes a welcome return but this time as Queen Elizabeth I, presiding over the day trip conjured by court astrologer Dr Dee (Harold Finley) and spirit Ariel (Lucy Ellinson).

Yet what should be a short and sharp feels more jumbled than anarchic. While Goode attempts to bring the action up to date with mentions of Donald Trump, Google and Grenfell Tower, in essence, this is still a piece from the ’70s with its heart in that decade and not ‘now’.

With a running time of over two hours, the show also goes on for far too long with self-indulgent pieces, like the extended dance piece to a techno version of the hymn Jerusalem, slowing down the action.

That said, there are some bright spots with Travis Alabanza in particular delivering an engaging and entertaining performance as gang leader Amyl Nitrate. Rose Wardlaw also shines as Crabs, lending a surprising sweetness to the character.

Chloe Lamford’s graffitied set is also worth a mention with Union Jacks strewn from the balconies and graffiti scrawled all over the walls to turn the whole Royal Exchange into a giant contemporary squat.

3 out of 5 stars

JUBILEE runs at Royal Exchange Theatre until 18 November 2017.