Lyric Hammersmith – until 10 March 2018
Derek Jarman’s anarchic, rebellious, seminal punk anthem, Jubilee, was an iconic film of the 1970s that captured the raucous, angry mood of a generation in despair. Forty years later Chris Goode’s stage adaptation at the Lyric Hammersmith has been updated for a new, sexually fluid, generation.
It’s still bleak and seething with resentment – urging revolution or, at the very least, a cleansing apocalypse – but does its furious message connect to the youth of today?
Back in 1977, when the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee, and crowds of well-wishers filled the streets for parties and parades, the country’s teens staged a rebellion. Punk – dirty, noisy and in-your-face – was a response to the bunting, jubilation and outpouring of love for the monarch.
Jarman’s film struck a chord, with its punk soundtrack and performances by leading figures of the time – Toyah, Adam Ant, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Brian Eno.
Murder, incest, arson, Jubilee follows the exploits of a violent girl-gang and their nihilist friends. It was foul-mouthed, controversial, and set out to shock.
But what happened to those original, outrageous punks, who spat bile and demanded change, crowd-surfed and pogoed in mosh pits, wore safety pins through their noses and groomed their hair into impressive Mohawks?
They are now mid-to-late 50s with mortgages, ulcers, stress and responsibilities. After briefly shouting noisily about their hopeless futures, they are now running the country, their own businesses and setting policy.
And what do today’s vegan, non smoking, non-drinking, no touchy-feely, clean-living, strait-laced Generation Z and millennials make of punk?
Can they see anything relevant to them in this messy, chaotic, occasionally inventive, sometimes potent indictment of societal failure?
Last night many sat in the audience, watching a scenario totally alien to them.
They were unresponsive even when goaded with accusations that they are obsessed with mobiles and tablets.
“This is the generation which grows up and forgets to live their lives,” they hear.
Goode updates the messages but it still sounds preachy and quaintly nostalgic. Punks must seem, like Teds and hippies before them, historical relics from a long gone era.
He attempts to follow Jarman’s shock tactics with nudity and writhing bodies, sex acts, incest, murders and homophobic/ trans outrage but, in these cynical, seen it-and-done that, times, are we in any way affected by it? Does anything shock any more?
Jubilee is depressingly dour. Its disaffected and disenfranchised characters offer no solutions other than to start again, after annihilation, with, hopefully, a better business plan for the planet.
Travis Alabanza’s Amyl Nitrate is narrator, commentator and instigator of much of the action. Amyl’s furious “doesn’t work” diatribe will strike a chord with many though few would agree with its conclusion.
In the film Toyah Willcox played angry rebel, Mad. Now the 59-year-old punk princess has been elevated to Queen Elizabeth I and she spends most of the production in the theatre’s royal box, watching the action on stage, occasionally breaking into monologues.
The Queen is given a vision of the future, and its dystopian desolation initially fills her with pain, before she finds herself sympathising with the group’s radical social commentary.
We have to wait until the final moments to hear Toyah sing, which is a shame, but the stage show doesn’t place the same emphasis on providing a soundtrack to define its era.
This is very much an ensemble piece with everyone playing their part.
Yandass Ndlovu, as rapper, Kid, shows that she is also a talented street dancer while Rose Wardlaw gives an incredibly compelling turn as sex worker Crabs who is looking for real love.
Craig Hamilton and Tom Ross Williams spend most of the night stripped naked and making out, occasionally joined by “performance artist” Viv (Lucy Ellinson).
Sophie Stone’s violent and unhinged Bod is downright scary and it’s no wonder, as she’s frequently seen with a craft knife in her hand.
Nostalgic, trying too hard to shock and no longer a force to be reckoned with, Jubliee is, nevertheless, a period piece with a difference which will find fans hoping to relive their youth or see what all the fuss was about.