The heat of Julie Burchill: Does she really just not care?

Julie Burchill is famous for not caring what anyone thinks of her. Does she really not care? That question is at the heart of Tim Fountain’s new play, Julie Burchill: Absolute Cult. Fountain and director Mike Bradwell get to grips.

The real Julie Burchill

The real Julie Burchill

Tim Fountain: We all find Julie Burchill a fascinating character to put onstage. She’s a high-wire act and audiences love high-wire acts. But when high-wire acts fall, which is what she’s in danger of doing in this show and in real life, then it’s a big fall.

 

Mike Bradwell: That’s what people come to see in a high-wire act: a big fall. It only works when it’s dangerous every time.

What attracted me to Julie Burchill: Absolute Cult was trying to work out why she is like she is. She said in her autobiography that, when she was young, she thought she was an alien baby. She believes she has no emotions in the same way as other people. And you go, “yeah, right”. It’s fair enough that she says that, but why? What’s she covering up?

She always gets her defense in first. When she states something, within what she says will be her reply to your criticism of what she’s said – before you’ve said a word. It’s “just in case this is what you were going to think…” She’ll either turn the gag around on you, or if she can’t think of anything intelligent or constructive to say, she’ll just be abusive.

It’s very playground behaviour. I think the reason she’s begun to lose her allure, apart from being mad, is because the entire playground has already seen her knickers.

 

Tim: We’re not doing her as a total sociopath. Even if you’re doing Richard III, you still have to let the audience in a little, otherwise it’s one-dimensional. The rules of drama are, if you’re playing a baddie, you find the good bits; if you’re playing a goodie, you find the bad bits.

Julie’s façade is intoxicating. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care, it just means that she says she doesn’t care.

 

Mike: She wouldn’t get angry about things, like she does, if she really didn’t care. She can’t not care.

 

Tim: But saying she doesn’t care, that in itself is an act of provocation to the world, that’s what generates so much of her heat.

The only thing that she’s asked to be altered in this script is that the exclamation ‘God!’ because she believes in God. So mass drug abuse, alcohol abuse on an industrial scale, insulting of transsexuals, Islamaphobia, all have gone straight through, but the use of the word g-o-d, she won’t say that.

If we were doing a play about anyone else and being this candid, we would think, “f**king hell, she’s going to storm off and sue us”. But that isn’t Julie. All credit to her. She is willing to let people say what they want about her. As she always says, she says what she wants about other people, and if you’re going to give it, you’ve got to take it.

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