Interview with Abey Bradbury of JULIE: The Musical

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Two performers stand closely, facing the camera with confident expressions. Both sport dramatic makeup and unique costumes; the person on the left wears a maroon jacket and tutu, while the one on the right dons lace attire with ribbons. Other costumed people are visible in the background.
JULIE The Musical

JULIE: The Musical tells the tale of the 17th century l LGBTQ+ icon Julie D'Aubigny. As a swordswoman, gifted opera singer & all-round adventurer, its not hard to imagine why writer Abey Bradbury wanted to bring the show to London's The Other Palace...

Hi Abey, tell us about the first ever recorded openly bisexual woman, Julie D’Aubigny?

So Julie D’Aubigny (also known as her stage name La Maupin) was a famous French Opera Singer and Swordswoman in the late 1600s-early 1700s, and yes she was one of the first public figures to live openly as a bisexual woman - obviously queer people have existed since people began, but Julie was very much a celebrity, famous (well, infamous really) and was one of the first to live so openly and unapologetically!

Julie only lived to be 33, but in her very brief time did more than most people could do in multiple lifetimes - some of her more famous escapades include sneaking into a convent and setting it on fire to escape with a Nun she was in love with, stabbing herself live on stage to get the attention of a German Prince she felt was ignoring her, kissing a woman in the middle of a Royal Ball and being challenged to a duel by 3 different men (she did duel them, all at once, beat them all, and then wandered back into the party like nothing happened…iconic) - and among all this also was an amazing performer and singer who innovated Opera (she introduced Contralto singing to France) and had several Opera’s written specifically for her.

Find a more perfect person to have a musical about them - we dare you!

How did you go about controlling the shows 'unapologetic chaos' for maximum dramatic effect & enjoyment?

A lot comes from the unique way the musical has been written and developed, which allows it to be a show people can recognise and enjoy over and over again, while also allowing people to bring their own personal flair and experiences and ideas to the show every time we stage it.

There’s about 50 characters in the show in total (I did count them one rehearsal when we got curious), played by just 4 actor-musicians on stage, and there’s no set rules for who plays what. Every time we’ve staged the show the doubling-up of all the parts has been completely different, there’s no such thing as gender on a JULIE: The Musical stage - our casts showcase a variety of gender identities, and anyone can play anything - and there’s a lot of scope for people to bring their own personality to each character, which I love seeing both as a writer and as an audience member!

As a musician, my background is more in band and folk music - I don’t use traditional sheet music, I’m self-taught, and learn and play more by ear. So unlike how musicals are currently written, where you have the score written out and everyone is given their specific parts to sing and play, in JULIE we build the music together in rehearsals like a band would. I’ve written the lyrics, melodies and chord progressions  - the ‘skeleton’ of the songs - but then we use individual actor’s skills and ideas and create a brand new sound with every cast - so if you’re ever cast in JULIE and you play the Irish Fiddle? Then absolutely we’re throwing some Irish Fiddle in! We have someone who’s amazing at Beat Boxing? Amazing! It’s in the show!

JULIE is a show that breaks a lot of the rules of normal musical theatre, and allows people to really express themselves on stage through Julie and the adventures she had, which then means audiences really get to see themselves in the show as well, which is pretty joyous to me!

Are there are any key moments that are particular satisfying in the story or performance for you?

I really love it when audiences are surprised in the show - and there are a lot of moments that are surprising for different reasons! A bit like Julie’s own life, you can never really guess where the scene is going next, but that’s what makes it so fun to watch!

There are spots through the show where we have moments of improv - for example when characters audition for the Opera, we have no idea what their audition is going to be…we’ve had Shakira, the cup song from Pitch Perfect, spoken word poetry, maybe we’ll get the Karma dance this time who knows? - so it’s always great to surprise each other on stage as well as the audience.

But then there’s also moments which are a bit darker, or more dramatic, and it’s always very satisfying when audiences start off laughing and then realise they maybe shouldn’t be - there’s a moment when Julie’s actions start to catch up to her, and the audience go on the same slow realisation as Julie does on stage, which is always delicious to watch and perform.

A person with curly hair seen from behind, wearing a purple, sparkly outfit, holds a rapier over their right shoulder. The background is an illuminated stage with purple and pink lights, creating a vibrant, energetic atmosphere.
Julie D’Aubigny

JULIE was a finalist at the Offies for Best New Musical 2024. Why do you think the show has received the praise it has?

I think people can see a lot of themselves on stage in JULIE - if you’ve ever felt like you didn’t quite belong, have spent time forging your own path or really want to, if you’re looking for your people or are lucky enough to have found them already - then you can see it and experience it all in the show.

I think you can also see the heart and the love and the soul that goes into the show from everyone involved and who make it what it is - right from the wonderful producers and venues who took a chance on a scrappy debut musical, to the actors and team on stage giving so much passion into the performance and production, to the amazing audience members and people who’ve travelled across the UK to see nearly every performance (I still get very excited when I see them coming in through the door!).

JULIE really is breaking the mold and the rules of musical theatre, and it’s that authenticity and unapologetic chaos that really has made it stand out and become such a favourite in such a short amount of time!

What is captivating you in London’s wider creative scene right now? What’s caught your attention?

Well I might not be the right person to answer this as I’m actually a Northerner (le gasp!) and I still live and work up near Manchester rather than London (le double gasp!).

Across the whole UK creative scene I am seeing a shift though to more new work - there’s a real hunger for original musicals and theatre, and for a more representation both in the stories we’re telling on stage, but also the people telling them in all levels of the industry, not just in the people you see on stage, which I know will lead to more interesting work being made, as long as we can get the people with money to support it!

I do think there’s a distinct lack of Kazoos in the West End though…I love a Kazoo!

Learn more about the production here.