The Royal Exchange
Adapted for the stage by Chris Goode from the original screenplay by Derek Jarman and James Whaley
Directed by Chris Goode
The interior walls of the Royal Exchange Theatre are densely covered in graffiti. The music is ramped up – this is not Royal Exchange noise levels – this is JUBILEE. The stage is set with Toyah Wilcox at her dressing table as Queen Elisabeth I regally pondering the future.
This is 40 years on from her anarchic role as Mads in the original Derek Jarman film. Having seen the original as a young teenager and promptly calling one of the family cats kittens after Toyah this feels like time travel for more than just Elisabeth I. Looking around the actual Royal Exchange theatre it feels like we could be in a time travel machine. I half expected Amyl Nitrate and her girl gang to seal in the audience with barbed wire and Union Jack flag poles.
This adaptation by Chris Goode is faithful to the original film. The production is brought up to date by references to Cameron, Trump, Brexit and music tracks like Bad Girls by M.I.A but it maintains Jarman’s messy, anarchic “have a go” punk ethic. Adam Ant who played Kid in the original said Jarman was making it up as he went along. Goode is known as a director who likes to give actors space to develop and explore and this feels like an explosion of many ideas. This is not a cohesive piece of drama but is more a series of adrenaline shots fizzing round the space like Catherine Wheels.
There are bodies copulating in various combinations, a brutish policeman is castrated, there is an autoerotic asphyxiation murder, there is beautiful poetry, singing, dancing, political polemic and witty audience banter led by the brilliant Travis Alabanza. Chris Goode has staged a sort of A-Level drama exam take on an anarchic cabaret cabaret. Love it or hate it you won’t forget it.
There are some blistering moments like gems from the stolen crown hidden in an Aldi plastic bag by Bod. The scene looking out at all the tower blocks vividly alludes to Grenfall Towers as Sphinx describes the grey concrete towers of his childhood as an equally effective means of killing poor people as war.
The passionate rhetoric which bursts from Amyl Nitrate in the second half gives Travis Alabanza a perfect platform for their natural brilliance. This trans artist is perfectly cast and striding around in heels and Jackie Kennedy pearls and pink is both outlandish and endearing. This is the performance that both charms and terrifies in equal measure. The original performer in this role was Jordan who Jarman described as “art history as make-up”. Jordan was in Manchester this week for a Louder than Words event – I really hope she got to see this.
If there is a SPOILER ALERT for Jubilee it is DON’T LEAVE at the interval because the first Act is overly long. The second act is a blistering finale where this “No Future” nihilistic polemic directly addresses those who remember the original film. If we were 15 back in 1977 then we have now been running the country for the last ten years. It is a sobering thought sitting in the Royal Exchange which recently had its 40 year anniversary watching Jubilee made nearly 40 years ago in 1978.
As the performance ends Elisabeth I can hear the familiar sound of seagulls harking back to her seafaring adventurous era. However hopeful or hopeless we may feel under whatever political ideology we uphold or rail against, perhaps one certainty is seagulls swooping over stony shingle coastline. I’m sure Derek Jarman would not wish it any other way.
Royal Exchange 2-18 November