Last night I experienced the rare treat of thinking I knew the basic outline of a story, and being pretty happy about it, but then watching something that was so much richer and more poignant that I felt annoyed with myself for making any assumptions at the beginning at all.
Juniper and Jules meet at a club. They flirt, they leave together, they have sex. But then – shock – we learn that Jules has never had sex with a woman before, in fact has a boyfriend, and is really quite surprised at the revelation that sex with a woman is an option for her. Aha, thought I, slightly cynically. That’s it. That’s the story. Woman discovers woman and grapples with identity. But that’s not the story. Or it is, partly, but it’s so much more than that. Juniper and Jules is a story about identity, about relationships, about love, about friendships and families and about needing someone but at the same time needing to be as far away from them as you possibly can.
We only spend about an hour with Juniper and Jules, but the two characters are so perfectly written and performed that you feel like you know them inside out. Stella Taylor as Juniper is serious and yet vulnerable, and drifts naturally between being hard and soft, prickly and needy. Gabriella Schmidt as the recently sexually liberated Jules is spunky and fun, sharp and confident but also trying to find her feet in a world where she’s realising that maybe nothing is off the table for her. Schmidt beautifully captures Jules’s earnest confusion, irritation, her resolve and her passion. It felt almost like being with two friends, catching snippets of a conversation that you know you’ll be dissecting with one of them later over a glass of wine, with maybe some tears or some giggles.
The dialogue is quick and very funny, but at times also cutting and sometimes sad. The from Stephanie Martin writing captures so much of the experience of dating and relationships, from the forensic examination of early text messages (who puts a full stop at the end of a message? I ask you…) through to friction with family and friends and the ultimate overhanging question of who you choose to put first and how you choose to be with them. I heard echoes of arguments that I’ve had with partners, felt the frustration, the embarrassment, the confusion, the jealousy, the love and the anger as if it were my own. The overwhelming feeling of wanting “to do everything with and to” someone, and the way we have to navigate and nurture relationships over time – it all felt so familiar, and so relatable. I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever rooted for a relationship as much as I did for this one, and I’m a hopeless romantic so that’s definitely saying something!
Soho Theatre is always an absolute treat anyway, and Soho Upstairs offers the perfect cosy space to watch the drama unfold. Juniper and Jules is running until Saturday 14th May and is one of the most perfectly scripted productions I’ve seen for a long time. Two big thumbs up from me.
Reviewer: Zoё Meeres
Reviewed: 5th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★