Writer &lyrics: Tom MacRae
Music: Dan Gillespie Sells
Director: Jonathan Butterell
Choreographer: Kate Prince
Reviewer: Sheila Stratford
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a new British musical that delivers both pathos and humour in equal measure. The story is based on a 2011 BBC documentary about 16-year-old Jamie Campbell who wants to be a drag queen. Jamie and his mother allowed the documentary to be produced, viewing it as a way for him to come out to everyone at once. Jamie wanted to be accepted for who he was, and he wanted to go to the end-of-school prom in a dress. Some of the school staff were against it, accusing Jamie of simply wanting to be the centre of attention. But, when his classmates swore to stay away from the prom unless Jamie could go in a dress, he knew he had been accepted for who he was.
Director John Butterell saw the documentary by chance and thought it would make a tremendous musical. At about the same time (by happy coincidence), Butterell met Dan Gillespie Sells (lead vocalist and songwriter in The Feeling) and screenwriter Tom MacRae, who had been working collaboratively on a different piece. When John presented his idea for the musical, they were eager to become involved.
In the musical, Jamie New is openly gay and the majority of his classmates are accepting of this. His mother, Margaret New, and family friend Aaliyah ‘Lee’ Begum (Mina Anwar) are totally supportive, but Jamie’s dad thinks his son is disgusting and classmate Dean Paxton (Luke Baker) relentlessly taunts him.
His mother buys Jamie a pair of red high heel shoes for his birthday, encouraging him in his ambition. Jamie sets off to a costume supplier that specialises in drag for a prom dress. There he meets ex-drag queen Loco Chanel, who arranges for Jamie’s first performance at a local club. This sets his classmates singing Everybody’s talking About Jamie in admiration. His studious soulmate, Pritti Pasha, sings It Means Beautiful to support him against self-doubt. Along with Jamie, she is also mocked by the class bully.
John McCrea is excellent as the 16-year-old Jamie. He is totally believable in his mannerisms with glimpses of self-consciousness, self-confident strutting, and gawky schoolboy behaviour. He is a joy to watch, as is Lucie Shorthouse as Pritti Pasha.
Josie Walker as Margaret has a beautiful voice and when she sings If I Met Myself Again, it is accompanied by a most captivating dance between a younger self and a younger ex-husband.
The musical really captures the energy and vibrancy of youth, testing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour with their career’s teacher. The music, lyrics and atmosphere are infectious and generate a lively response from the audience. Though it does have some similarities to Billy Elliott, this musical feels fresh, outrageous and youthful. It tells an inspiring story of the importance of self-discovery.
Runs until 25 February 2017 | Image: Johan Persson