I like what the Royal Exchange are doing at the moment, the way they are experimenting with not only subject matter but also form, for example Parliament Square.  Jubilee, directed by Chris Goode, continues that trajectory, bringing to the main stage a play full of subversion and devised theatre, sexual diversity and violence.

It’s always problematic to use a forty year old narrative to draw out present day issues and few succeed.  It often feels like the ideas are being stretched, turned over, but looked at in insufficient detail.  Any play that uses ‘neoliberalism’ three times is either overly intellectual or lacking in ways to describe what it wants to discuss.  As always I have to ask ‘was this the right vehicle to make these important points?’  And of course the answer is, well, sometimes, yes, and sometimes, no.

The play has a ‘just devised’ feel, which gives it both an intelligent freshness, and a chaotic unfinished atmosphere.  Overall there is a sensation that the evening is episodic, rolling from one scene (or perhaps sketch) to the next.  The individual characters are very strong, we see very quickly who they are and what they want.  But the environments into which they are put don’t necessarily show this off to maximum effect.

There’s a lot of humour in this play, and this is worked well.  There’s also a lot of sex, which feels devoid of emotion.  Perhaps this is on purpose.  Perhaps this is a nihilistic view of the world.  But then what is that telling us, the audience?  Then there is a lot of music which is on the whole uplifting, life affirming, positive; a large part of the second half is taken up by an impressive club scene.  And there is violence and death that feels straight out of A Clockwork Orange.  It is very much, as the blurb goes, about what happens when creativity and nihilism collide.  But the play sits uneasily between these two extremes.

There’s a lot to like about Jubilee.  The first half is certainly too long, but the second half has more impact.  Come for the characters, how it makes you think about our world today, but don’t expect any solutions.

Royal Exchange, Manchester, 2-18 November 2017.


Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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