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Jubilee. Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

March 14, 2018

(seen at the afternoon performance on 7th March 2018).

As both programme and indeed performers acknowledge, much of the audience will be familiar with the title from the original film – and mostly from its notorious showings in the early days of Channel 4. Many a lonely teenage male watched furtively in their room or taped it in the hope of a flash of… well, so I was told, anyway, moving on…

The presence of original “Mad” Toyah Willcox, this time as Queen Elizabeth I, regally ensconced in a box until near the end – when she proves she can still belt out her biggest hit number, is the only real tie with that movie.

We have moved on, past Silver, Golden, Diamond and now into (we are assured) Uranium Jubilee territory. Punks are replaced by generation iphone, and you may be recorded for training purposes at all times, including while using someone’s body for gratification and being murdered for it.

Disjointed imagery and a smattering of Shakespearian language are still present. The trouble is a strong sense of ennui for those who remember it all the first time around. Back then, teenagers were rebelling against a system of values that had stood for decades. Now, those same teenagers (so a late scene charges) have created the horrors of globalisation, austerity and everything in between, while reaping and keeping the gains for themselves.

Trouble is, those same 70s stock also broke down the system to the point where today’s tribe have to go far further to find something to kick against. The fundamentals have changed – police are not that interested in tackling most of the anarchy they can create, all vices are online at the click of a mouse and the current economy excludes many in all generations so it is not exclusive to the young.

A glimpse of stocking was still mildly shocking even back in 1978. Today, almost the entire cast are nude at one point or another, and it just didn’t matter. No sense of rebellion, edge or hint of creativity (despite that being the point of Ariel / Viv (Lucy Ellinson) involved, just a few goosebumps as it isn’t that warm on the stage (I know, I was sat on one of the rather comfy stage benches). Even a quick incest idea (Craig Hamilton – Sphinx, John Ross Williams – Angel) is reduced to a couple of actors lying on a mattress, ignored as action proceeds centre-stage.

The whole effect is of an acting troupe given Arts Council money to spend weeks improvising for something, and then showing what they have created. The performances are strong – can’t fail to enjoy Crabs (Rosie Wardlaw’s) walk down the stair rail, warm to Amyl Nitrate (Travis Alabanza) and the history lessons, nor appreciate Bod (Sophie Stone) putting the world to rights in a bondage outfit. In fact, the genuine affection the cast eventually have when they pull together is a redeeming feature.

For the rest, it’s a meander over nearly two and a half hours, for something that could have been done and dusted in half that. For those living in today’s cyber world, it’s about as dangerous as unfiltered Google Image results, and nearly as eclectic. There’s little whiff of freshness, some hints of undercooked ideas, but with enough snorts of polish to see it through and justify its existence.

As strange as the original film, but more strained and lacking anything to measure restraint against, is the monkey verdict.

Two stars.

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