Jubilee: the reviews

Feb 28, 2018

Derek Jarman’s anarchic punk film Jubilee has been adapted for the stage with a cast including Toyah Willcox who made her screen debut in the original version 40 years ago. Willcox played the cackling pyromaniac Mad, a member of a girl gang whose fights, orgies and random acts of cruelty are witnessed by Queen Elizabeth I when she is magically transported to the 1970s. The new stage version premiered at Manchester’s Royal Exchange in November 2017 and casts Willcox in the role of the time-travelling queen. “At the time it was made, it was utterly outrageous,” says Willcox of the film, which she describes as the tale of “women who are trying to kind of kill everything that controls them or that has exploited them. It’s a very resonant story today. Nothing’s changed except the technology.”

The production opened at the Lyric Hammersmith in February and runs until 10 March 2018.

Much like the original Jarman film, the production opens debate and divides Here is a selection of the reviews it has received so far…… but you can always make your own mind up if you catch the current run at Lyric Hammersmith.

Click each publication title to read the full review

Chloe Lamford’s design transforms the Lyric into a giant in-the-round squat, scrawled with graffiti. In the film, pyromaniac Mad was played by Toyah Willcox in one of her earliest screen performances. The production eloquently acknowledges the passing of the years by recasting her as Queen Elizabeth I, who time-travels to today and witnesses the mayhem in her realm from a box, descending to join with the company in a rousing rendition of the Toyah Willcox hit “I Want to Be Free” as a finale. 

The extravagance of the piece is seductive – in terms of its emotional flamboyance and theatrical swagger, not just how much has been spent on Chloe Lamford’s graffitied set. In terms of its form, Jubilee is all over the place and doesn’t even attempt to make sense, but that is part of its grisly beauty. Don’t think of it as a play but more a pageant: a series of visions layered over each other.

This is so much more than a piece of theatre. Chris Goode’s production is a political statement that shoves the celebration of individuality down your throat. The entire company shine in their own joyous way and it’s a special sight. However, in no way is the play glamorous. It’s raw, gritty and viciously attacks every single one of your preconceptions.

Goode cleaves to the film’s somewhat slapdash storyline and many of its most notorious features – incestuous gay sex, the strangulation and castration of men (mere disposable sex-objects) and rampant nudity. And he has a major casting coup on his hands too – punk veteran Toyah Willcox, who got an early break starring (alongside a fresh-faced Adam Ant) as the pyromaniac Mad, here takes the beautifully attired (criminally under-written) role of Elizabeth I, magically transported in time to observe what has become of her sceptred isle.

If Jubilee is a show that was deliberately designed to alienate, then that was mission accomplished. It’s an intriguing strategy: the show wins either way. If people love it, it can bask in the glow; if they leave, it can rejoice in alienating them.

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.

In a happy connection with the original, punk Queen Toyah Willcox embodies the Virgin Queen having played Mad on celluloid so long ago. She also provides one of the evening’s highlights with a brief but lively rendition of I Want to Be Free.”

It was clever in this anniversary of a jubilee to cast Toyah Willcox – who played Mad in the film – as a witty ruffed-up Gloriana, getting her handy magician John Dee to summon up visions, and towards the end joyously bursting into I Want to Be Free. 

A fiercely powerful staging of Derek Jarman’s punk classic. ……. its weirdness also points to the impossibility of depicting a world whose violence is often invisible. There aren’t really cops shooting people at queer parties, but under austerity politics, there’s a quieter destruction at work. ‘Jubilee’ ends by pointing to the precariousness and fragility of rebellion, while leaving just enough space for hope.

Jubilee sits as awkwardly onstage as it did on screen. The raggedy rhythms and sensory overload turn it into pageant and Toyah Willcox’s Queen Elizabeth (“Lizzie One Point Zero”) sits in the theatre’s balcony in a white silk gown, imperious but intrigued, surveying the stage just as we do. It’s 40 years since she played Mad, snarling and cackling down Jarman’s camera, and she wears the same neon orange eyeshadow as QE1 today. It’s a masterstroke of casting. Punk has grown up. Its endless present is the past – or is its past, its present? 

Those who haven’t seen the film might struggle to keep up with the pace of the show. It rips along, sometimes slowing for a monologue, sometimes revving up to light speed for a dose of sex and ultra-violence. On some occasions, however, the dialogue slows down enough for viewers to relish it, and the havoc gives way to tenderness, poignancy and exceptional subtlety.

Jubilee is superb in its metatheacricality, realising the elements of stagecraft present within Jarman’s film. The script cleverly observes the forty years of cultural change since ’77 and is playful in its interaction with members of the audience. It is absurd, with a peculiar, ravenous kind of beauty and it will leave you craving a cigarette lit by a blaze fiercer than hell on earth.

It’s always wonderful to see Toyah Wilcox on stage. Often remembered solely for her pop career, Toyah is also an actress. In 1977 she filmed Jubilee, Derek Jarman’s brutal meditation on the state of a Britain that was being soaked in royalist propaganda to mark 25 years of Elizabeth II’s reign. Toyah played an orange-haired pyromaniac called Mad. In Chris Goode’s new stage adaptation and updating of Jarman’s film, she plays Elizabeth I. The forty year in between has seen the world transformed and the sometimes progressive, sometimes violently anarchic world of punk has been utterly transcended.

Jubilee won’t be for everyone, but behind the pearls, punch-ups and notably high penis count (this is not one for prudes) is a desire to break down the patriarchal, hetero-normative and divisive conventions that govern modern society.  Go bask in its bonkersness because if we’re going up in flames, this is the way to do it. 

Irresistibly all over the place, anarchy spins round the theatre; it’s infectious and gut-punching. If anything is going to stop people gazing at their screens for a couple of hours, this might be it.

Toyah Willcox goes from rebel to regal as she makes a comeback having played Mad in the original movie and now bringing delightful grace to the stage as Elizabeth I. Unsurprisingly she owns every second of her role as an onlooker from the past. Jubilee’s blatant dialogue and minimal use of symbolism makes for a refreshing take on what are usually controversial topics. It is explicit beginning to end and makes no apologies for it.

Chris Goode’s adaptation of Derek Jarman and James Whaley’s original screenplay of punk classic Jubilee works because precise effort, energy, skill and acute attention to the current political, social and cultural issues have been referenced and woven into a script that is brash, electric, shocking, brutal and provocative. 

….the Lyric theatre should be commended for supporting avant-garde theatre; it is certainly an interesting night out and ultimately this play encourages discussion and that’s surely what theatre should do before, as Goode predicts, it becomes extinct.

The play, an often brutal, chaotic showpiece was brilliantly acted all the way through with Alabanza standing out in suitable Jordanesque, Mondrian inspired make-up, as a true star. The performance artist never missed a beat with a series of thought provoking monologues that would challenge the most dedicated actor. The supporting cast provided a rich mesh of often bewildering set pieces from the glorious Rule Britannia, a decadent Spice Girls inspired Beggars Banquet to Toyah’s own ‘I Wanna Be Free’.

Rage is the heartbeat of this show, pulsing beneath the sex and the violence and the theatricality. Rage at the system. Rage at inequality. Rage at all the ways we’ve tried and failed to make the world work, from punk to neoliberalism. It erupts through in white-hot flashes, asking why we’re not all setting things on fire like Bod and her gang.

It was truly exhilarating to see subculture themes taking to an important theatre and mainstream audience. There was talk in the audience about content warnings of swearing, full-frontal nudity and not to take your elderly relatives, but hell, I say take them, maybe they’ll learn something, and we can show them how to revolt.