Review: JUNIPER AND JULES, Soho Theatre

A tale of love, lust and the changing tides of sexual identity

Show of the Week: Tickets From £30 for WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION

Show of the Week: Tickets From £30 for WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTIONIt must have been said at some point in history that the course of lesbian love never did run smooth. Jules is vivacious and unconventional, whereas Juniper is thoughtful and quiet. Flirty glances across a noisy bar leads the pair to embark on a fiery relationship, learning to accept and trust each other even when they don't want to.

Soho Theatre describes Juniper and Jules as "a contemporary story about relationships, queer identities, and how we choose to love." This certainly feels like the intention, but the script doesn't dare to explore the discomfort felt by either character enough to make the queer discourse truly substantial. Both women are honest enough on paper but there is untouched space within their differences that brimming with tension. Juniper (Stella Taylor) is steadfast in her devotion to women, but Jules (Gabriella Schmidt) sees intimacy with everyone as totally equal. The pair have a lot to say about the other but are repeatedly amicable after any conflict. Their argument style is cyclical and expected, leaving little to sink your teeth into.

Aside from the bumps in the plot, Juniper and Jules does attempt to occupy space as an example of lesbian joy. The last half decade has given rise to the unfavourable "Bury Your Gays" trope, when far too often beloved lesbian/bisexual characters are subjected to miserable and fatal endings. It's a dramatic device that ostracises the sapphic community but, in this instance, Stephanie Martin writes with hope. Martin gives just enough context to make the space immediately relatable and sprinkles gay humour throughout. Bethany Pitts' direction offers glimpses of realistic queerness, proving that the material can be bright and effective.

Soho Upstairs looks sparse on first impressions, with only an oval table covered by a sheet centre stage. This soon transforms into the couple's shared bed and remains as a reminder of the intimacy that we are stealing a look at. This simplicity in design (Cara Evans) lends to the brisk changes of location, always returning to the safety of Juniper's bedroom for a battle between jealousy and desire. Sound by Nicola T Chang is key in giving the pace a well-needed kick at times.

Surprisingly there was no credited intimacy coordinator to navigate the heavy sexual themes. Such a visceral display of lesbian sexuality is absolutely refreshing, but the importance of creating this work through safe practice cannot be underestimated. Taylor and Schmidt clearly trust each other but the overall lack of embodiment leans heavily on the absence of professional coordination during the frequent sex scenes. Watching at such close range suddenly veers towards feeling voyeuristic; you can't help but sense the atmosphere shift as everyone around you quietly questions where to look.

Juniper and Jules could be wildly satisfying for queer audiences, if only it took the risk to challenge the toxicity that can develop between people who want and need completely different things. The frankness surrounding the subject of non-monogamy was the most enticing morsel and pushing even further into those conversations would have delivered greater reward.

Stephanie Martin's Juniper and Jules won Show of the Week at the Vault Festival 2019.

Juniper and Jules at Soho Theatre until 14 May

Photo credit: Ali Wright


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