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Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
THE RELEASE of Derek Jarman’s chaotic, anarchic punk film Jubilee in 1978 was sandwiched between the current monarch’s silver jubilee and Thatcher taking power.
British society was broken. Mass unemployment, soaring inflation, increasing industrial strife and young people becoming alienated from a ruling elite who showed no interest in them or their future was very much the reality of the time.
In Jarman’s dystopian film, Elizabeth I is teleported forward to a Britain in meltdown, with bands of violent anarcho-punk women roaming the streets indulging in mindless violence and general mayhem.
Jarman's work is very much of its time and of a youth culture that died almost as quickly as it erupted. Whether four decades on a stage adaptation provides any new perspective is open to question.
The intervening years have certainly seen massive destruction from the anarchy spewed out by uncontrolled neoliberalism and director and adaptor Chris Goode has attempted to recognise this by inserting current political issues into the narrative.
But slipping in the odd cheeky reference to Donald Trump or North Korea — or a sly comment on Kevin Spacey — cannot turn a quirky film about a bleak period of political and cultural history into a mordant commentary on today’s dangerous world.
A pity, given the recent revelations of political misogyny and the super-rich, including our monarch, stashing their cash in off-shore tax havens. There's a great play to be written about how the punk anarchists of the '70s are now the generation in power, helping to firebomb today’s world.
This isn't it, but there are some bright moments in the production, especially performance artist Travis Alabanza’s Amyl Nitrate, who lights up the stage as she struts around delivering comic asides about a crazy world.
And it's great to hear Toyah Willcox, promoted from her role as the pyromaniac Mad in Jarman’s film to the heady heights of Elizabeth I, belting out her great '70s hit I Want to Be Free.
But it's all too little to save a stage adaptation of a half-baked film wallowing in despair. Jarman himself said: "We have now seen all established authority, all political systems, fail to provide any solution — they no longer ring true.”
Unfortunately, Goode picks up and runs with Jarman’s despairing mantra that the only hope for the future is annihilation.
It’s easy to destroy but much harder to build change. Young people now deserve better.
Runs until November 18, box office: royalexchange.co.uk
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