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Julie: The Musical – Edinburgh Fringe

Written By:

Anne-Louise Fortune

Here at Starburst we like to champion emerging and early career creatives, and so it was with great joy that Monday night at the Edinburgh Fringe took us to a late night encounter with Julie: The Musical, the newest work from Manchester-based theatre maker Abey Bradbury. In pre-pandemic times, Abey and her theatre troupe ‘The Cream Faced Loons’ were developing a solid reputation for making Shakespeare funky in various unexpected locations. This new production is what-Abey-did-when-the-theatres-were-closed, and is a bold and ambitious move into a telling a story through music.

Julie D’Aubigny’s story has made a reappearance in the popular conscience over the last few years, as her life story has been rediscovered by YouTubers, mainstream broadcasters, and in more than one play. This level of interest is justified, as Julie’s story is as fascinating as it is outrageous. Whilst actual concrete facts are difficult to verify, the rumours recorded in the scandal sheets and court records of the day provide enough tidbits on which to build a sensation. Effectively the ‘IT Girl’ of her day, D’Aubigny’s life began in relative poverty and ended in a rubbish heap, but between that inauspicious beginning, and appalling end, she was a member of the French court, the lover of many, many people, a formidable swordsperson, and, infamously, and as the tag line for this show proclaims, ‘a flaming bisexual’. And also an opera singer.

It’s this experience as an opera singer which is used as a framing device. Bradbury, who has written the music, lyrics and script for the show, also portrays D’Aubigny, and opens the show by telling us that she’s going to recount the ‘opera of her life’. Invoking the spirits of Six and Chicago, the story proceeds in a mash up of music styles, and this production is as much gig theatre as it is small-scale musical. It’s as much glam rock as it is operatic ballad.

The small cast of five portrays a staggering array of characters, and play almost all of the music live – only the piano accompaniment has been pre-recorded. Sophie Coward on Bass Guitar, Saxophone, Flute and other percussion instruments, whilst also, sometimes simultaneously, portraying a multitude of characters, is a strong support to Bradbury’s lead. The entire cast is strong, and Connor Simkins does a fantastic job of portraying a Seranne who channels David Bowie via Cabaret’s Emcee whilst liberating Julie from her stifling existence at Versailles, as the two flee Paris, and Julie’s life of scandal begins. As Julie wanders France, behaving outrageously and leaving broken hearts, and broken bones, in their wake, she falls in with Grant Cartwright’s Thevenard, before falling out with him and wrecking her own burgeoning opera career in the process. There’s a lot more plot than this, but we don’t want to ruin the story for you.

Musicals take a long time to develop, and Bradbury and other members of their team started began conceiving the plot and songs some twelve months ago. Whilst many of the songs are staggeringly catchy, there are some which we feel could benefit from further development, and in narrative terms, the breadcrumbs regarding Marie, portrayed charmingly by Sam Kearney-Edwardes, could perhaps be made slightly more obvious. It’s not clear to us whether the running time has been edited for Edinburgh Fringe purposes, but we felt that there was definitely room for 10 or 15 minutes more storytelling time in the narrative, as the end of Julie’s story seemed somewhat sudden. We expect that this is probably a temporary measure, and that the last third of the story will be expanded as the show continues to develop.

This staging at Edinburgh Fringe is an opportunity to see at an early stage a show which could well end up on a much bigger stage in the next few years. In its current incarnation, it’s a great deal of fun, with some very toe-tapping songs. It isn’t taking itself too seriously, and it also manages to inform the audience about this fascinating figure from history. This production adds twenty-first century glamour and glitz, to Julie’s Seventeenth Century tale of opera, fencing, and scandalous liaisons, and is heartily recommended to add some glamour to your Fringe experience.

Tickets can be bought via this link.

Anne-Louise Fortune

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