Soho Theatre – until 14 May 2022
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Juniper and Jules is a fast and funny show about queer relationships. Juniper (Stella Taylor) and Jules (Gabriella Schmidt) first encounter on a dancefloor is equal parts charming and cringeworthy, setting the tone for their relationship.
Juniper is a proud lesbian, happily declaring her hatred of men, while Jules has a boyfriend and “doesn’t even KNOW any lesbians.” After spending the night with Juniper, Jules is ecstatic about her sensations and feelings, and realises that her estate agent boyfriend is not enough. The pair begin a relationship, and we watch this evolve from the first delirious moments to dissatisfaction in short order. Stephanie Martin’s clever writing has the audience assuming Juniper is controlling and pulling all the strings at first, painting Jules as carefree and compliant as she explores her sexuality, unwilling to give herself a label. As the relationship continues, it is clear that Jules is not as compliant as she appears, convincing/manipulating Juniper into situations she might not be comfortable with in order to continue the relationship. Unable to follow the rules they have established without hurting each other, the power shifts feel natural and illuminate the characters’ fears and needs without becoming melodramatic until the couple eventually discover how to thrive in their open relationship.
Director Bethany Pitts’ dynamic approach keeps things pacy but allows the sensitive and soul-searching moments time to settle. The short scenes usually deal with preparation for, or the fallout from, encounters with other people, but they are never seen. The family backgrounds are mentioned briefly, but that is more than enough to explain each woman’s approach to life, but the rest of the world – their friends, work and families – are merely hinted at through jokes and anecdotes as the actors move around a pink platform, highlighting the intensity and focus of the relationship beautifully. Their arguments are invariably settled with a joke or a hug, which could be unsatisfactory were it not for the actors utterly convincing portrayal of the characters’ need for each other. Arguments by text are also read aloud, with punctuation used as a devastating weapon.
Gabriella Schmidt is bubbly and full of charm as Jules, but impressively shows her character’s steel between the smiles and daft jokes. Stella Taylor portrays Juniper’s vulnerability beneath her measured and confident mask skilfully, and the two actors have a sizzling chemistry on stage.
A sharp but sensitive portrayal of two vastly different queer women, Jules and Juniper is laugh out loud funny and a real treat.