What's on in London: Julie - the musical

Celebrating the life and adventures of Julie D’Aubigny.

What's on in London: Julie - the musical

Julie D’Aubigny is the 17th century queer icon you’ve probably never heard of, but a musical celebrating the life of this opera singer, swordswoman, and badass bisexual aims to change all of that.

Get ready for Julie: The Musical.

As the story unfolds, Julie shares her tales of seducing nuns, duelling multiple men at once, burning down convents, being bribed by royalty, and innovating Opera.

Createdy by Abey Bradbury, this is a musical that celebrates the extraordinary life of this 17th century icon. It celebrates queerness. It celebrates carving a place for yourself in a world not built for you.

We caught up with Abey for a behind-the-scenes look at the production.

How did you first encounter the story of Julie D’Augbigny?

I first learnt about Julie through a meme that came up as a suggested page on Instagram - I’m a massive history nerd and it was a ‘historical trivia’ meme saying ‘Did you know there was a 17th Century French Opera Singer who fought men at parties and burnt down convents after seducing nuns? And I thought “wow that sounds like an interesting person”, and then I read up a bit more about Julie and went “Wow, this is a really interesting person!” 

I’d also been looking for inspiration for a musical, and Julie is just obviously the perfect person who needs to have a show about them!

What was your creative process for this work - did you immediately think, "this feels like a musical?”

Yes, straightaway it was obvious Julie D’Aubigny would need to have her story told as a musical - not just because she was a singer and a performer herself, but because her true life is so chaotic and fantastical it feels like the only way to really get across her story is by picking up an electric guitar and belting it out!

I’m not a traditional writer/composer - I’m self-taught so I don’t use sheet music. I come from a folk music and band style background, so a lot of creating the show is actually done in the rehearsal room with each new cast - I’ve written the base of all the songs, but then we build the sound of the show with everyone in the room, and we use everyone’s individual skills to add things into the music and the style and the storytelling.

For example, we have someone in the cast this time who plays the cello, we’ve never had that before, and it’s not only adding so much to the sound but we’re also using it as part of the story, mixing this really traditional instrument with modern electric guitars to show different sides of characters is something that’s been really fun to play around with

Is Julie a good role-model for queer people of today?

Julie is such a complex and fascinating figure that I think it’s hard to say if she’s definitely a ‘good' role-model or not. The thing I love about Julie is how unapologetic she was, especially in her queerness - she’s someone who clearly knew who she was sexuality-wise, and really did carve herself her own space in the society she was born into and didn’t let anyone take her queerness from her, which is something we can definitely all look up to.

However, she was also quite a troubled and deeply flawed person, she wasn’t always the best to her friends and was very quick to drop people, and she seemed to always run head first into self-destruction - but to me that makes her what we all are, human.

I think it’s important when showing characters on stage - whether they’re fictional or from history - to present them with warts and flaws and all. We shouldn’t be scared to make our characters unlikable at times, because it’s also in the cracks that we can see ourselves as well.

Julie is still one of my favourite historical figures - but she was also a real person, which means that she can be iconic and brilliant and wonderful, and threatening and terrible and flawed all at the same time, just like we all are.

The production leans into the gender-fuckery potential of Julie's story - was that something that you envisaged from the start or did it emerge during the development process? 

It’s definitely something I was wanting to bring in from the start - I’m non-binary, and part of me writing this show in the first place was to create a show I’d want to watch and be in myself. I also love that gender-fuckery is becoming more and more mainstream on stage!

I also just love the challenge of trying to show as many characters as possible with as a few actors on stage as possible (when I’m not running around with the JULIE crew I do a lot of one-person Shakespeare shows - you should see my Midsummer Night’s Dream), and JULIE has roughly 50 characters portrayed by 4 actor-musicians, so gender-fuckery was always going to be on the table!

One thing I’ve enjoyed about developing JULIE over the past few years is that like with the music, there’s no set parts each person has to play, so the doubling up has always been different with each new cast, and it can bring so much to the story as well seeing different people play different characters - when you have the same actor playing the King, then Julie’s Nun Lover, then into her Best Friend at Court, then into a man challenging her to a duel, it creates it’s own world on stage that the audience are also part of. It also means that when it comes to casting there are literally no rules, anyone can be in JULIE no matter who they are, how they identify or what they look like, and I can’t wait to see what future casts of the show can bring to it!

What do you hope that people feel when people are watching Julie: The Musical?

I hope that people firstly have a great time! The show at it’s heart really is a celebration of Queerness and living you’re best unapologetic life - it’s chaotic and cathartic in equal measure!

There’s also a lot to take away from the show about finding yourself and your identity, and choosing the people you love and your found family - and how it can be a struggle when you feel like you’re not in a world that’s built for you, how it can feel like it’s easier to put on a mask and just pretend, but in the end that won’t lead to your own joy.

So I hope that audiences are able to see themselves represented on stage, and feel inspired to find their joy with the people they love…and maybe cause a bit of chaos along the way - I like to ask myself ‘What Would Julie Do?’

Julie: The Musical will run at The Other Palace in London from 13-30 June.

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