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Chris Goode: Everything I know about theatre, I learned first from Derek Jarman

Cast members in rehearsal for Jubilee. Photo: Johan Persson Cast members in rehearsal for Jubilee. Photo: Johan Persson
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Almost everything I think I know about theatre, I learned from someplace else. Sometimes it’s just easier to spot the clues about theatre that are encoded in some other kind of event or relationship.

You glancingly recognise something and immediately know you want to take it into your next rehearsal room.

Something about the obliqueness of the angle matches the radical hospitality of theatre. The understanding that the wholly new and unexpected is ready to rush in and surround us, if only we can remember that we come to theatre not to make things, but to make spaces for things to happen in.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog post ridiculously entitled “The young anarchosyndicalist’s guide to theatre space”.

It presented an assemblage of 21 different propositions – artworks, poems, songs, video games, porn clips even – and, perhaps mischievously, implied that each of them was somehow an instance of theatre. One of those 21 items was an extract from Derek Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee.

I first saw Jubilee as a teenager – having already read about Jarman’s work, and been enthralled by the multiplicity of him: how elegant and angry he was, how kind and rigorous, a good neighbour and a joyous, furious vandal.

Jubilee likewise articulated itself through contradictions: its wild humour and sententiousness, its glamour and drabness, its vitality and longeurs. And always, irradiating everything, its queerness, like Jarman’s queerness: cheerful, spirited, volatile, incendiary.

I felt bewildered by the film, estranged even. But I loved it instantly and I always will.

There’s something about that welcoming of contradiction that feels inherently theatrical.

Plus, it’s a film in which its interiors, focused on a south London squat, are teeming with the spontaneity and openness that characterised Jarman’s approach to film-making and that define my own theatrical instincts.

The movie is full of performance: marauding young punks dressing up (or down) and striking poses; loads of fourth-wall-demolishing direct-to-camera address, too. Jubilee was always, for me, a stage play thinly disguised as a film.

Forty years on, it felt like time to make some space and let the stage version of Jubilee rush in. We’ve dragged it into the present day and let it be reshaped by our current political realities, our increasingly fragmented culture, our disoriented relationship with ideas of identity and freedom and (no) future.

One of the breakout stars of the film, Toyah Willcox, is with us in the cast, to help make sure we don’t stray – though there’d be a certain fidelity to Jarman’s vision if we did.

We’ve all loved how much she’s loving it. There’s nothing about Jarman’s work, even at its angriest, that doesn’t somehow begin and end in loving. In fact almost everything I think I know about theatre, I suppose I learned first from Jarman.

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