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


Image by Chris Payne


A Powder Keg and Royal Exchange Co-Production

Royal Exchange Studio

The stage looks like a rundown bear pen in a post- apocalyptic zoo. Despite the welcome mat this is clearly no cosy Bear home that Goldilocks has chanced upon. The Bears are styled in the fashion of Mad Max meets well worn patched up teddy bears. They are both bizarre and delightful as they set their dinner table to eat salt and peppered KitKat with knives and forks. These are civilised bears adopting human behaviours in a no longer civilised world.

We want people to see a piece that is about climate change without it preaching to them or without it fearmongering to the point where people just turn away from it. I think that is one of the main reasons a lot of people don’t focus on climate change as one of the overriding problems of the world.
Powder Keg won the 2016 Hodgkiss Award to develop this piece about climate change and conservation. It is not remotely preachy –  especially as the bears do not speak any words. It is however a humorous and at times enchanting look at the impact of consumerist waste. We may smile as the bears playfully try out a variety of aerosol deodorants then casually throw them away. We might be amused as they scramble through boxes of rubbish bearing high street brands like Cafe Nero or Starbucks. The message is however very clear. We have choked the planet with waste to the point where we have been extinguished and now the last animals left know nothing other than to emulate their destroyers.

The physicality and movement of the performers is deft, and effective in evoking the bears in their habitat. The cast have created 3 very watchable bears however the pacing needs some work as the middle 20 minutes flounders needing further dramatic development. The last section picks up pace and with a clever use of lighting and more of an already good soundscape it develops to a striking conclusion.

There are some beautiful moments as the bears play and scavenge and squabble. The most striking moment is perhaps the magical use of fairy lights. Ultimately so poignant and heartrending as they become like barbed wire enveloping  the tragic, bewildered animal.

The use of brightness and darkness works effectively to portray the last gasps of our technological world. The closing scene of the bears downsizing their home bangs home a powerful message about the shrinking icecaps. These bears are the natural descendants of those earlier cuddly eco creatures The Wombles. Sadly 40 years on and we seem to still need reminding that our planet remains in crisis.