Review: Jubilee, Royal Exchange, Manchester
The 1978 punk film Jubilee set out to shock with violence, nudity and strong language. Nearly 40 years later, the 2017 play features more of the same but shocks for a different reason.
Why is this? Well, thanks in no small part to social media, we’ve become immune. Numb to almost all of it. Punk’s original prophecies have been realised.
At Manchester’s Royal Exchange, ideas, beliefs and concepts are chillingly recited, followed by the angry cry that each “does not work” You can almost hear Johnny Rotten scowl “no future” somewhere in the distance.
Which bring us to Toyah Willcox, the link between old and new. Forty years on from playing pyromaniac Mad in the film, she presides over proceedings (and Derek Jarman’s legacy) as Queen Elizabeth I, surveying a broken Britain terrorised by a generation with no moral compass. Her presence adds just the right amount of gravitas and authenticity to a piece dominated by a young fearless cast.
Travis Alabanza is a charismatic, stand-out as Amyl Nitrate, MC of this horridly exhilarating circus, effortlessly drawing you in with a spiky blend of insults and charm. Comic lines are placed with precision. Despite the bleakness, there are laughs among the splinters. It’s a risky balancing act but the humour translates far more effectively here than it ever did in the cinema.
The piece revels in self-deprecation. The pomposity of attempting to legitimise the piece in theatre-land is smartly savaged: “An iconic film most of you have never heard of, adapted by an Oxbridge twat for a dying medium…”
Director Chris Goode has updated the script with an intelligent range of modern references. Sphinx (Craig Hamilton) tells of the social isolation and trappings of high rise life, quietly bringing the horror of Grenfell Tower to mind. Trump is inevitably name checked but so is Brucie.
Irresistibly all over the place, anarchy spins round the theatre; it’s infectious and gut-punching. If anything is going to stop people gazing at their screens for a couple of hours, this might be it.
A few people left at the interval, serving as proof that the show still works and the sordid spirit of ’78 lives on.
Jubilee is at Manchester’s Royal Exchange until November 18, 2017. For tickets, click here.
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