Play Me like I Am, Says Julie Burchill, Squeaks and All ; Drama Queen - the Life, Loves and Feuds of Britain's Bitchiest Columnist Are to Be Aired, `Jeffrey Bernard'-Style, in a West End Play

By Morrison, James | The Independent (London, England), April 21, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Play Me like I Am, Says Julie Burchill, Squeaks and All ; Drama Queen - the Life, Loves and Feuds of Britain's Bitchiest Columnist Are to Be Aired, `Jeffrey Bernard'-Style, in a West End Play


Morrison, James, The Independent (London, England)


The stars are queuing up for walk-on parts; tickets are selling like hot cakes and there's already talk of a national tour. With weeks to go, anticipation could scarcely be higher for the play billed "the Julie Burchill version" of West End classic Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.

But while those who have fallen foul of the columnist's savage wit await comic Jackie Clune's no-holds-barred portrayal with dread, critics have only one question on their lips: will she be mimicking Burchill's infamous voice?

For the moment, Clune is keeping mum. "People are obsessed by whether I'm going to do her voice or not," she said. "The aim of the show is to get to the essence of Julie Burchill, so whether I do or not will come out of rehearsals."

While she conceded that Burchill's humour is "bound up in her voice", Clune said the notion that she "talks like that" all the time is a myth. "It's only really like that when she's mucking around."

Unfazed by rumours that the show's producers are wary about subjecting audiences to what one of her friends has reportedly described as "the squeal of a sickly mouse with a West Country burr", Burchill herself hopes they will.

The 42-year-old, who by her own admission has an idiosyncratic vocal delivery, said she hopes Clune will use her Bristol accent to full effect. "I've got very good timing, and against what other people think I find my voice quite appealing," she added.

Whatever the final outcome of the great vocal cord debate, Julie Burchill is Away is bound to spring a number of surprises when it opens at London's Soho Theatre in June. The play, an 80-minute monologue, is set in the sparsely furnished Brighton mansion the journalist shares with a bust of Lenin and a large statue of the Tin Man.

While her static companions will remain on stage throughout, her boyfriend will make only a brief appearance in between mending the jammed "I" key on her computer so that she can write her newspaper column.

However, his fleeting nightly cameo is set to provide the producers with one of their most headline-grabbing opportunities. Taking their cue from The Play Wot I Wrote, they want the role to be taken in turns by celebrities - starting with Burchill's one-time bete noire, fellow journalist Toby Young. Burchill said that, if the supply of celebrities dried up, the chance to do so could be offered to male members of the audience.

Writer Tim Fountain said the new play would not shy away from addressing Burchill's colourful private life.

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Play Me like I Am, Says Julie Burchill, Squeaks and All ; Drama Queen - the Life, Loves and Feuds of Britain's Bitchiest Columnist Are to Be Aired, `Jeffrey Bernard'-Style, in a West End Play
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