Review - Jubilee at the Lyric Hammersmith
One of my colleagues sitting in front of me turned around at the interval and said that Jubilee was the worst play he'd seen in a decade. The husband of another skipped the second act entirely. As I was sorely tempted to do myself (though to do so would have meant I could not have filed this review, as you can't only cover half a show).
It's certainly a marmite show: yet another colleague told me later that after she reviewed it during its original run at Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre last year, it only narrowly missed being on her list of the top ten shows of the year.
So it may well be one of those shows you have to make up your own mind about. For me, it was an altogether punishing evening, dispensing with all the niceties of theatre - plot, sense, taste and point, not to mention comfort (the new bench seating installed for it is crippling; a platform has been built out over what used to the stalls, and a new temporary theatre space created that has us seated on benches placed on three sides).
It's not so much a play as an incoherent muddle. It seems deliberately designed to infuriate and challenge; it sets out its confrontational, antagonist stall right from the beginning. In the second scene, a character that rejoices in the name of Amyl Nitrate welcomes us with a direct address, telling us: "How nice to be with you. One gets a much better class of audience at the subsidised theatre, I must say. The cinema is full of scumbags. Eating their pick-n-mix and live-tweeting their inane thoughts to their seven followers. Ugh. Thank you for your bourgeois stultification, it makes for a much nice atmosphere."
Then Amyl lets us know what we're in for: "So, welcome to Jubilee. An iconic film most of you have never even 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”.
At least we can't say we weren't warned. Jubilee is a 1978 punk film by the late gay film-maker Derek Jarman, and Chris Goode's production - which he both directs and adapts from the original screenplay by Jarman and James Whaley - is a defiant evening that merges cabaret, sexual provocation, nudity and royalty in one supposedly explosive evening.
It's all very meta-theatrical, constantly commenting on itself (and its audience); but the tedium is also very nearly relentless too. There's nothing less shocking of course than something that is deliberately trying to do so, as entirely gratuitously naked actors fawn and pawn all over each's bodies - the two men, for added shock, value are playing brothers.
I was bored as hell. But then, in the parallel universe of this kind of theatre, that will be a badge of honour to its makers: it calls for an extreme reaction.
Photo © Tristram Kenton