If you lived in Paris during the 1970s, it was easy to bypass the whole punk thing the Brits had going on over here. To we Frenchies, “punkness” seemed a bit of a London cliché, something you saw on a postcard: a menacing miscreant standing next to a red phone box, a face full of safety pins and a psychedelic mohawk. And don’t mention those Dr Martens boots – a big non-non in French fashion. As my social media feed went wild yesterday with the death of someone unknown to me until now, punk icon Judy Blame, I was reminded just how much of this counterculture is ingrained in the Brits and how it still transcends into fashion and literature today. And Jubilee at the Lyric Hammersmith is bringing it back to us in a full-frontal assault of nude, rude and lewd on-stage behaviour that may leave you shocked, amused, bemused and probably a tad confused.
But it’s meant to be messy. The original Jubilee was a cult punk film, directed by Derek Jarman and set in 1977 during Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee. It’s been cleverly re-imagined by Chris Goode into a snapshot of today’s anarchic and unhinged modern world. Jarman pokes fun at Brexit, Trump, Corbyn and Cameron. Even Ant and Dec get it.
Is God dead? Queen Elizabeth I (Toyah Willcox) has time-travelled to an apocalyptic present and surveys the chaos below in quiet contemplation, an impotent player in a game of sloppy chess. The astrologer John Dee and Shakespeare’s Ariel are also in tow. It’s a “terminally fucked” world where “dangerous desires don’t need art,” where “facts are negotiable” and “tower blocks are an efficient mechanism for killing people.” Arts council money is being used to promote incest, and “as long as the music is loud enough, we won’t hear the world falling apart.”
The cast is led by Travis Alabanza as punk gang leader Amyl Nitrate, all pearls and pom-poms and England’s last remaining hope and glory. The gender-bending gang also includes Crabs, a bisexual nymphomaniac (Rose Wardlaw) and anarchist Bod, played by deaf actress Sophie Stone.
I feel sorry for directors and writers who aim to dish out even a little stage shock. In today’s social media circus, it’s hard to be controversial. Nevertheless, I did have one first in this dystopian fantasy: an on-stage murder by sexual asphyxiation. There’s a generous supply of swearing, police brutality, nudity and incest.
It’s all madness and mayhem. There are glimpses of the psychotic symbolism of A Clockwork Orange, the cross-gender frolicking of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Richard O’Brien was in the original film) and the violent humour of The Young Ones. I am not sure if this Frenchie still gets your British revolution, but prepare to be properly punk’d during the spiky, prickly, hardcore Jubilee.
Jubilee is on at the Lyric Hammersmith until 10 March 2018.