Review: JULIE: The Musical, The Other Palace

My second musical about Julie D’Aubigny, JULIE: The Musical has some moments of real punkish energy at the studio at The Other Palace

“I’m pretty fucking good with a sword”

There’s something mildly amusing about a neglected historical queer icon getting not one but two different musicals celebrating the extraordinary circumstances of their life in the last couple of years. But there’s also something apposite about it too, a piece-by-piece rebalancing of the scales after so much theatre about the same dead, white, straight men.

The subject is Julie D’Aubigny, celebrated back in 2022 with the exceptionally good La Maupin and also here with JULIE: The Musical, returning to The Other Palace after a UK tour last year. Abey Bradbury’s debut musical has been retooled a little for this 3 week residency, its bounteous, raucous energy a good fit for this studio space as Conor Dye directs with aplomb.

Historians note D’Aubigny as one of the first public figures to live as an openly bisexual woman and she certainly took 17th century France by the scruff of the neck, leaving a trail of husbands and lovers in her wake as she stops at nothing to pursue what she wants, whether that’s a woman who is now a nun, to become an opera singer or to flee the doldrums of exile in Brussels.

Given the fragmentary nature of D’Aubigny’s biography, Bradbury’s storytelling takes the nature of a confessional – Sam Kearney-Edwardes’ Julie taking the stage from the beginning. This allows her to tell as lurid a version of her life-story as she likes, often acknowledging that she’s embellished a bit here, omitted something there, it also acts an apologia in advance for the absence of a narrative throughline.

In many ways, that feels in keeping with the punkish nature of JULIE, and of Julie. Her musical influences are wildly eclectic, the actor-muso ensemble clamber each other and their instruments to cover guitar, bass and percussion at any given moment and there’s a wicked sense of humour from broad to bracing (the interrupted interlude about being a child bride is the funniest 10 seconds I think I’ve heard all year!).

I’m not sure the show’s final section works as effectively as the rest: as things become more serious for Julie the character, so too does Julie the narrator crumble. This hint of metatheatrics feels like a natural endpoint but the show continues on with its raw edges increasingly showing, it is deeply empathetic subject matter but it lacks the requisite impact in this unintegrated format.

That said, there is artistic ambition aplenty to admire here, particularly in whose voices it is choosing to amplify. Kearney-Edwardes has mighty big swagger as the (over-) confident Julie and she is ably supported by Bradbury, Zachary Pang and Melinda Orengo (loved the Police Cops in-joke!) in the multi-roling company. History, and musical theatre, with a difference.

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