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Juniper and Jules Review: 'a sharply observant comedy-drama'

Simon Button also writes that playwright Stephanie Martin is "an emerging talent with a strong voice".

2022-05-09

Words: Simon Button; pictures: Ali Wright

The fact that Juniper and Jules is a love story between two women is a plus point in its favour even before the house lights go down and our protagonists meet for the first time on a dance floor.

Queer plays are rare enough and ones about queer women are rarer still. But Stephanie Martin’s two-hander, now at the Soho Theatre after a run at the VAULT Festival in 2019, isn’t just notable for the gender and sexualities of its characters - it’s also a sharply observant comedy-drama that bills itself as being about “relationships, queer identities and how we choose to love” and insightfully ticks all those boxes.

Stella Taylor and Gabriella Schmidt as Juniper and Jules in Juniper and Jules (Photo: Ali Wright)

Juniper (as in what they make gin from, she comically points out) is a software developer and a dyed-in-the-wool lesbian. Jules (short for Juliet) is a primary school teacher who has never had sex with a woman before.

After a dance floor hook-up, Jules throws herself into the relationship like a kid in a candy store who’s only been allowed fruit before. Marvelling at Juniper’s vagina, she remarks “I love how complicated it is” and before long she’s spending more time at her new and first girlfriend’s flat than at her own.

Gabriella Schmidt as Jules in Juniper and Jules (Photo: Ali Wright)

There are, of course, complications. Juniper is prone to low moods whereas Jules is much sunnier. The former wears her lesbian label with pride whilst the latter thinks she’s probably bisexual but doesn’t really care to categorise herself.

Having ditched her estate agent boyfriend, Jules wants to embrace what Juniper’s friends call “ethical non-monogamy”. Juniper is reluctant but agrees so long as there are rules in place, most of which eventually and inevitably get broken in this astute exploration of modern love which marks Stephanie Martin as a playwright to keep an eye on.

Stella Taylor as Juniper in Juniper and Jules (Photo: Ali Wright)

Having penned Joy (a coming-of-age story about a young woman with Down’s Syndrome), Alkaline (an exploration of faith and friendship), and the fabulous Passion Fruit with Dior Clarke (a queer variation on another coming-of-age tale), she’s writing a piece for the Shakespeare’s Globe season of new plays and developing her first feature film.

On the evidence of Juniper and Jules alone, she’s an emerging talent with a strong voice. As peerlessly played by Gabriella Schmidt (Jules) and Stella Taylor (Juniper), her characters are vividly drawn.

Stella Taylor and Gabriella Schmidt as Juniper and Jules in Juniper and Jules (Photo: Ali Wright)

They get some great lines (“Kevin Bacon in Footloose is basically the hottest lesbian”, and “I’m going nowhere, we just bought a new mop”) and find themselves in some funny situations (a scene with a gold strap-on is especially memorable) but the script is always rooted in what’s real and recognisable, even if the 70-minute running time makes the story feel a bit rushed.

I worried going in that as a gay male I might not be the best person to review it. I was wrong. It may be a play specifically about Juniper and Jules but it rings with universal truths about what it’s like to fall in love and all the joys and complications that go with it.

Rating: 4/5

Juniper and Jules is at the Soho Theatre until 14 May. For more information visit sohotheatre.com and for great deals on tickets and shows click here.