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The Theatreguide.London Review

Lyric Hammersmith  Spring 2018

This is a salute to forty years ago's avant-garde, and almost as dreary as that sounds. 

Despite the hard work of many people and occasional isolated moments of inventiveness, it is depressingly unable to achieve much originality, coherence or theatrical life. 

Writer-director Chris Goode has adapted Derek Jarman's 1977 film for the stage, keeping its general outline and attitudes but updating its references so that we get the disconnect of 1970s figures commenting on Trump, Brexit and the like. 

A random collection of punks, artistic wannabes, drag queens and nihilists share a squat. One wants to be a pop star, one is a performance artist, one sees him/herself as a social commentator, the rest just lie around having (simulated) sex in various combinations. 

(Any resemblance to Hair a decade earlier or Rent two decades later is purely coincidental.) 

There are repressive police and casual murders, and the whole is watched over from a box seat by Queen Elizabeth I, played by Toyah Willcox as if both character and actress wonder what they're doing in this play.

If there is a theme to film and play, it is the challenge of making art in a nihilistic and anarchic age, but since none of the supposed artists shows any discernable struggle or talent, there is very little holding things together or giving them any forward momentum. 

Saving graces are few. Travis Alabanza brings a mordant wit to the central role of historian/commentator Amyl Nitrate, delivering the character's seventies/modern observations with attractive snideness. 

In the midst of the generally shapeless staging, there's a good group dance number to open Act Two, and sprinkled through the play are rather sweet moments in which young characters think what they don't realise are banal truisms for the very first time. 

But for the large part of the audience whose parents might not have been born at the time, I can only assure you that the Seventies really were a whole lot more interesting and alive than this show makes them seem.

Gerald Berkowitz

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