I saw 'Jubilee' yesterday at the Lyric Hammersmith and was consistently amazed how powerful this production is. The play is an adaptation of the film, which was previously engaging and shocking audiences in 1978. Derek Jarman's mirror on a society unzipping at the seams, a series of related sequences linking the past and present. England's dreaming dragged through the dust and detritus of a disenfranchised society tired of the polar extremes of those who have and those who most definitely don't.
So why now? Why ever not? Chris Goode takes the original screenplay by Derek Jarman and James Whaley and drags it kicking and screaming into the present day. After all, the original themes of alienation, disillusionment, sexual experimentation and gender fluidity are even more potent and necessary today. Change is only ever possible through exploration and confrontation. The society we inhabit today is lit by screens of various sizes and powered by a capitalist system on its hands and knees trying to spew up the 'next big thing'. It's time for theatre to fight back should the industry have the inclination to do so and this play marks a useful opening salvo.
Having said that, it's important to see this play in context, not only in relation to the original film but as one of a number of so-called 'challenging' or 'controversial' plays that have sought to expose the nastier aspects of societies bereft of moral certainties and governments tied up in their own petty intrigues and mindless hyperbole. Off of the top of my head, Mark Ravenhill's 'Shopping and Fucking' has the greatest affinity with this play. Rampant consumerism informing all decisions in Ravenhill's play. Who needs morality when you can buy something nice or really anything at all? The staging of the play 'Shopping and Fucking' at the Lyric Hammersmith a couple of years ago also involved the audience. I remember being sold a £1 badge with 'Shopping and Fucking' on it by a member of the cast prior to the start of the show.
Anyhow, back to 'Jubilee', it sparks and dazzles with intelligence and images that linger long after you leave the theatre. Amyl Nitrate dancing and miming to 'Rule Britannia', wielding the Union Flag like a blunt weapon, an imperialist phallus, ultimately subject to a spot of simulated sexual excess. Amyl narrowly missing the audience with the flag. Toyah Willcox as Queen Elizabeth the First alternately features on stage and more frequently is seen in what would be the 'royal box' in most theatres, providing lighting and commentary on the proceedings. John Dee facilitating the link between the past and present.
The script hits the proverbial nail on the head concerning the social malaise Western society is currently suffering. There are no solutions, no 'metanarratives' to use a postmodern concept, to help tidy up and resolve the issues. Indeed, all of the isms have succeeded in simply hitting a brick wall. Lovely cosy communism being as morally bereft and unsustainable in the long term as capitalism. By the end of the play, Chris Goode has led us to a point of departure and it's at that point where the theatre of the Noughties should be heading. The point now is not to wallow in the mire but to kick the doors down. Theatre has an obligation to itself and to society to challenge and explore the difficult issues. It may not have the political strength to change the ills of society but if it can galvanise a new momentum, a new spirit of rebellion in the face of the apathy that surrounds us, it will have won a small battle.
We need more plays like 'Jubilee' urgently. We also need more theatres like the Lyric Hammersmith who are prepared to take the risk to put on more plays that challenge rather than mollycoddle their audiences.
Barry Watt - 25th February 2018
The original film 'Jubilee' based on the screenplay by Derek Jarman and James Whaley is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
The play 'Jubilee' by Chris Goode is currently still on at the Lyric Hammersmith until 10th March 2018. The playtext is also available. The Lyric Hammersmith is a great theatre.
Mark Ravenhill's 'Shopping and Fucking' is available as a playtext and is occasionally staged.
'Rule Britannia!' is a lovely little ditty based on a poem by James Thomson and the music was composed by Thomas Arne.
Toyah Willcox appeared in the original film, 'Jubilee' and remains an important singer and actress:
John Dee and Queen Elizabeth the First were actual historical figures. The first a magician, alchemist and astrologer. The second, a fairly well known royal personality.
'Metanarratives' within the field of postmodern theory are most commonly referred to in relation to Jean-Francois Lyotard:
All other references to characters and scenes in the play and film, 'Jubilee' are of course, copyright to their respective copyright owners.