Julie D'Aubigny was a real sword-fighting, opera-singing, "flaming bisexual" who lived in 17th-century France (and other places). The musical sees Julie performing her life story for the audience, never being anything less than completely unapologetically herself. After a while, the veneer starts to fade and the real Julie comes to terms with her life, loves, heartbreak and, ultimately, hope. 

This cast of four are generally a joy to watch. Though some moments of the musical performance aren't as slick as they could be (further, if you're going to have drums on the stage, sound balance is key!), the actor-muso element of this show is inspired and gives it life, even weaving the instruments into the comedy of the script to great effect. Comic chops are present in each performer, who adlibs with the audience with great ease and fun throughout. Abey Bradbury (who also provides the book, lyrics, and compositions of the piece) is an endearing Thevenard, Melinda Orengo shines in her sincere performance as Marie De Florensac, and Zachary Pang comes into his own when he lets go of strange caricatures and delves into more grounded personas. Sam Kearney-Edwardes is a tour-de-force as the titular Julie D'Aubigny. Her vocals are exceptional, her stage presence unmatched, though a touch more nonchalance when delivering the script would take this performance to the next level. 

Becky Cox does a great job making the most of the limited stage space, bringing the backstage of the opera to the fore of this production; her costumes feel fun, and a nice blend of contemporary with period nods.
It is the material itself, and perhaps the direction, that diminishes what has the potential to be a brilliant celebration of a fascinating woman and the queer joy she represents. 

In the entire musical, there are two songs - "Me, Myself & I" and "Repeat the Drill" - which are fantastically well-written. The rest of the show consists largely of prose put to music without much thoughtful composition, and there is a lack of any meaningful consistency running through the musical themes throughout. This is not to say the other songs are entirely without merit - Bradbury clearly knows how to layer a harmony - but they lack impact both musically and lyrically, ultimately making the piece feel like it drags at times. 

The script, too, needs some revisions. Perhaps requiring fresh eyes, much of the narrative is confusing at times (often jumping around without clear context-setting), and the concept of Julie presenting her own story then blurring the line of meta-theatre is truly excellent but its execution needs work. It is clear that there is skill within Bradbury's writing as there are some moments of true witty genius, but it is unfortunate that these are outweighed by jokes that do not land and a tendency to over-indulge in a punchline past the point of humorous at all. This isn't helped by the direction that seems to favour juvenile laughs over understated comedy (which, when it occurs, is genuinely very funny) and a lack of strong comic timing in general. Similarly to the musical elements of the show not flowing together, there are some intensely emotional moments that don't impact us as they could were there better build up, and a beautiful metaphor of fire and burning out appears towards the end but it hasn't been threaded through the rest of the story in order to touch our hearts. 

For a fun and interesting slice of history, the show runs at The Other Palace until 30th June. 

Review: Penny Lane     Photo: Ben Wilkin