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Jubilee at Lyric Hammersmith

6 March 2018 Suzanne Frost

In 1978, Derek Jarman’s cult punk film Jubilee pictured the dystopian collapse of Britannia sinking below the waves. Chris Goode’s stage adaptation for the Royal Exchange Company, currently playing at the Lyric Hammersmith, drags the classic punk images of post-industrial wastelands, dismal living situations and random acts of senseless violence into the 21st century. It is 2018 and the end of the world seems near.

The script might be from 1970 but look around you: a lost generation of societal outcasts raised in the concrete confines of tower blocks - “the most efficient mechanism yet designed for killing poor people” - who are the casualties of a nation on the brink of collapse. No future, the battle cry of punk, finally rings true.


Yandass Ndlovu (Kid) Tom Ross-Williams (Angel) and Craig Hamilton (Sphinx) in Jubilee at Lyric Hammersmith. Photos Tristram Kenton
 
Jubilee is played in-the-round and in-yer-face, full of nudity, violence, sex, drugs, graffiti on the walls, ragged up union jacks and dirty mattresses that are constantly in use for some gender fluid contorting or other. The gang of misfit millennial punks who call this hovel their head quarters are watched over by a time travelling Queen Elizabeth I (played by one of the original punks of Jarman’s film, Toyah Willcox) and a verse spinning Ariel who seemingly just fell out of a lofty Shakespeare play down into this underworld. The kids do drugs and performance art against the privatisation of the NHS – by dancing naked covered in mud and barbed wire. They are gender fluid and ‘sex positive’, they do stupid things with knifes and firebombs and every now and then, they go about killing someone. And then live tweet it from their phones, of course.


Travis Alabanza (Amyl Nitrate) in Jubilee at Lyric Hammersmith. Photos by Tristram Kenton
 
The play tries to take on everything at once: racism, sexism, queerness, transgender identity, white people, straight people, colonialism, empire, politics, Trump, Blair, police violence, gang violence, the internet, hipsters, hypocrites, the music industry, fake news, alternative facts, wealth gaps and middle class cosmopolitan elites in M&S comfort- waist chinos. It is a lot to tackle and the play tries to be angry about everything, whilst also not really giving a hoot. There is chaos and aimless anarchy in scenes loosely scattered around a diffuse fragmented storyline.
 
By far the most articulate character is Amyl Nitrate, played by transgender performer Travis Alabanza, who is our emcee for the evening. More demure than fabulous, dressed in classy charity shop Chanel and pearls, Amyl is a chronicler of her flat mates generation rather than taking part in their antics. Classy and detached, she cracks her punch lines and shares her worldly wisdom with deadpan disillusionment. If you were 15 in 1978 you are now 55, she mocks the bourgeois audience. That means the punks of yore have been running the country for a while now. Punks screwed over the next generation. Punks blew up the housing bubble about to burst into millennial’s faces. Punks probably voted leave.


Cast of Jubilee at Lyric Hammersmith. Photos by Tristram Kenton.
 

The new additional material that Amyl delivers in a stand up comedy style is some of the strongest in the script, little glimpses of genius in the general mayhem, honest, truthful and nihilistic at once. Capitalism, communism, liberalism, democracy, globalisation - all the political systems don’t work. Neither do the concepts of gender, or race or religion. The only thing that works is apocalypse. And Beyoncé. The generation that was supposed to be all about activism is apparently too busy watching livestreams and Instagramming their brunch.
 
The show has a point to make  - actually many points - and they are all important. The way it goes about delivering its message is a post-dramatic mess – but that is exactly what it wants to be: punk, baby.
 
Jubilee is playing at Lyric Hammersmith till 10 March
 
 
 
 
 
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