The Prickle (@ThePrickle) February 28, 2018
Derek Jarman’s iconic 1978 cult film is celebrating forty years this year with a new remastering, and this new stage adaptation by Chris Goode, originally for the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, now transferred to London. Jarman’s extreme and violent hallucinations on punk are even more visceral on stage, with Elizabeth I (pop icon and original cast member Toyah Willcox), full frontal nudity, police brutality, a rhinoceros, and a five minute silent sequence on a tightrope.
As well as bringing audiences physically into the terrifying madness of the film, the genius of this stage adaptation is to constantly reference how times have changed over the last four decades. “In 1977, someone shouting NO FUTURE sounded like the most extreme nihilistic punk,” explains Amyl Nitrate (Travis Alabanza, former artist-in-residence at The Tate) in a calm monologue. “Forty years on, it’s a fact. It’s mainstream climate science.” While the story and characters are the same, this Jubilee is set in modern day: Kid (Yandass Ndlovu) is a spoken word artist; Amyl writes on a battered MacBook; unhinged matriarch Bod (Sophie Stone) decries how the youth are addicted to their phones.
The cast also constantly complain about the limitations of theatre as an art form. “So, welcome to Jubilee,” introduces Amyl Nitrate. “An iconic film most of you have never heard of, adapted by an Oxbridge twat for a dying medium, spoiled by millennials, ruined by diversity, and constantly threatening to go all interactive. You poor fuckers.” And yet, even though we know that everything in theatre is “fake”, as Bod laments, by the time a rhinoceros appears, we are ready to accept anything.
The original film is both extremely offensive and infamously impenetrable; this adaptation is, arguably, even more so. No knowledge of the film is required, but audiences will need an open mind and a strong stomach. Beyond the degradation and insanity there is something emotionally charged, and very prescient. Punk is not dead, its loud and angry spirit echoes through the ages.