What We're Watching - Jubilee, Royal Exchange

November 17, 2017

 

Derek Jarman’s gloriously imperfect film Jubilee divided opinion in 1978. Its harshest critics were the leaders of the punk movement it seemingly celebrated, with Vivienne Westwood accusing it of that most heinous crime of being boring.

 

Almost 40 years on, director Chris Goode’s decision to embrace the scrappy, anything-goes nature of Jarman’s movie, without matching its singular vision, results in a production that is largely guilty of the same thing.

 

What should be a short, sharp shot in the arm feels frustratingly flabby, with a spirited cast never quite corralled into a cohesive whole. Its self-awareness is refreshing but even that palls during an overlong running time.

 

Goode’s adaptation stays remarkably faithful to Jarman and James Whaley’s plot, as a time-travelling Elizabeth I (Toyah Willcox, who played gang member Mad in the original film) observes the misadventures of a group of murderous nihilists in a lawless, dystopian vision of modern Britain. In Jarman’s film it was the fictionalised near-future of the late 1970s but mentions of Donald Trump, Google and Grenfell Tower bring the action squarely – if rather clunkily – up to date.

 

There are some bright spots. Travis Alabanza is an entertaining presence as the gang’s nominal leader Amyl Nitrate, lifting proceedings noticeably whenever they address the audience directly, while Rose Wardlaw lends the character of Crabs a surprising sweetness.

 

But an over-reliance on recorded music and a critical lack of full songs robs the production of any real sonic impact, with only a well-choreographed set-piece soundtracked by MIA’s Bad Girls managing to stir the senses anything like enough.

 

Review by Chris Bartlett, copied from the Stage without permission

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