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Worshipped opera singer, renowned swordswoman, and a proud bisexual, Julie D’Aubigny is the 17th-century queer icon you may not have heard of. The original musical JULIE: The Musical will bring her incredible story to life at The Other Palace until 30 June.

In this original musical from Le Gasp! Productions (Tit Swingers, 2024), Julie’s determination to transcend 17th-century ideals prevails in a queer-led show that celebrates nonconformity and unapologetic chaos. With characters played by all genders, multiple musical genres, and no set instrumentation, “JULIE” is paving the way to a new era of musical theatre: one that champions accessibility and inclusivity in every way.

Abey Bradbury is the creative behind JULIE: The Musical and they have written for QX about their ambitious and unruly show, and their experience of bringing to life LGBTQIA+ stories on stage.

My name is Abey, I’m a non-binary writer, composer, actor and theatre maker from the North, and I write Big Gay Musicals.

I’ve always had a strained relationship with gender. I’m AFAB, and growing up I was either called a ‘tomboy’, or deemed a ‘proper young lady’ when I decided to wear a dress – I hated being called both. I was just wearing clothes I liked and I wasn’t trying to be anything. 

As the famous saying goes “It’s all Drag!” – I’ve personally always felt like gender is a performance, and so becoming an actor and theatre person it came quite naturally to just be whatever was needed at the time – as a kid making up shows to perform in our garden I was always happiest playing the ‘weird’ characters, the goblins and creatures where their gender is just ‘yes!’ – I still am to be fair!

Abey Bradbury

I remember getting so frustrated doing Am Dram shows growing up, where I would sometimes audition for parts that were technically ‘male’, that I could act or sing better than anyone else auditioning, only to not get the part and be told it was because ‘well…you’re a girl? So we had to give it to Dave instead.’

And it’s something I still feel sometimes now as a professional – so when I started to create and write my own shows, I knew that I wouldn’t allow that frustration to be part of it.

I’m actually a massive Shakespeare Nerd, and I’ve run a Shakespeare company since 2016, and it started there with non-gendered casting, letting actors choose the pronouns and identities for their characters, and seeing the interesting dynamics that came with flipping gender expectations, or taking them away completely. It’s always interesting seeing how audiences resonate with new parts of the plays and characters when the character’s gender is taken out of the equation.

As I said before, I also write Big Gay Musicals, my latest being JULIE, which is coming to The Other Palace this summer, which is all about the life and adventures of Julie D’Aubigny, the 17th century queer icon you’ve probably never heard of.

In the show there are over 50 characters, played by just 4 actors, and it’s liberating being able to create a show where the actor’s gender doesn’t exist on stage – we have a cast with a whole range of gender identities, and everyone plays anyone, without it being played for laughs or as a gimmicky gag. It’s something we’re slowly starting to see more of in the theatre world – as well as JULIE, Operation Mincemeat is another show that works in a similar way that comes to mind – and I hope we see more and more of this kind of casting in mainstream theatre going forward.

Julie The Musical photos Ben Wilkin (images supplied)

However, being non-binary does ironically also give you a bit of a gender super-power when it comes to writing and getting under the skin of a character. Gender is a performance I’ve been perfecting all my life unfortunately, and I’m sure many other non-binary people can relate, and part of learning that performance involves experiencing and learning exactly what it’s like to be treated as a certain gender – in JULIE there’s a character called Marie, she’s known as ‘The Most Beautiful Woman in France’, is held as a paragon of femininity and put up on a pedestal, but she despises the attention, feels no-one knows the real her and hates that no-one uses her real name – Marie isn’t non-binary, our situations couldn’t be further apart, but I know her disgust at being called ‘The Most Beautiful Woman in France’ is the same as mine when I was called a ‘proper young lady’.

I hope we get to see more non-binary characters and stories appearing on stage, stories that celebrate finding your own self, and characters that are just non-binary because…well…why not? They just are! 

And if no-one else will do it, I guess I will?

Julie: The Musical runs from 13 – 30 June at The Other Palace, (studio) 12 Palace Street, London SW1E 5JA, United Kingdom

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