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Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys

Book/Lyrics: Tom MacRae

Music: Dan GIllespie Sells

Director: Jonathan Butterell

I’m not sure that those involved in the 2011 BBC Three documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16and indeed its subject Jamie Campbell, thought that this story of a British school boy from Bishop Auckland who comes out as a drag queen at his end-of-school prom, would have inspired a smash-hit musical that went on to a record-breaking run in the West End, subsequent UK tours, and a movie in 2021. Seven years on fromEverybody’s Talking About Jamie’s debut on Shaftesbury Avenue, the musical is still going strong, again touring the UK.

Since the original documentary’s release, it has helped propel the conversation on gender identity forward. The story of the real teen who suffered constant abuse, even at the hands of grown adults who would shout slurs at him as he walked the street, has inspired many to share their stories, to seek some comfort in his tale.

The story is relocated to Sheffield and Jamie New dreams of being a drag queen, but in the depths of Yorkshire, this working-class lad has a battle on his hands. It’s a place where Jamie Campbell himself says the “men were men and the women were women”.

Despite the bullying grinding him down, drag provides him with confidence and helps shield his vulnerabilities, and with the love and support of his mum who only wants him to be his true self, and his close pal, he takes on the prejudices of the school staff and the larger community. Jamie ultimately finds his drag persona, but not without some setbacks. The ‘real’ Jamie found not a single prom dress shop in the whole of the North East would let him try any on because he was a boy. In the musical enter Loco Chanelle local dress shop owner and legendary drag diva. Jamie eventually navigates his way to the prom and his fairy tale night in the spotlight.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamieis very much in the same vein as that other Yorkshire movie and musical about working class folks –Billy Elliot. It is also celebratory affair: a glorious salute to difference, a huge thumbs up for individuality. A story of the ordinary made extraordinary.

The songs by The Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie Sells and writer Tom MacRae provide the perfect vehicle for the action: upbeat and explosive in the first act and more reflective during the second. The choreography is tight but allows for youthful energy and exuberance. The band are pin sharp throughout. Anna Fleischle’s set transforms seamlessly between school, shop, mum’s kitchen, dad’s house and best pal Pritti’s bedroom.

What sets this production apart is its cast and the sheer commitment and dynamism they bring. Ivan Turco is a knock-out as Jamie with an outstanding voice to match his acting skills, he breathes an irresistible life into the teen drag queen. But there really isn’t a weak link on stage: Rebecca McKinnis’ portrayal of mum is an emotional and vocal powerhouse, Sejal Keshwala is a triumph as Ray, X-Factor winner Sam Bailey is strong as teacher Miss Hedge, Talia Palamathanan a brilliant best pal Pritti and Kevin Clifton a revelation as drag mother Hugo/Loco Chanelle. The ensemble are phenomenal from start to end.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamieis not just a story about “a boy in a dress” it is so much more than that. It urges us to have the courage to pursue our dreams, to write our own story. It shows how people just want to be accepted and respected for being who they really are. A truly celebratory affair, it will send you into the night with your heart full, feeling that the world is just that bit better a place for this musical being in it.

Runs until 18 May 2024 then continues touring | Image: Matt Crockett

The Reviews Hub Score

Life affirming

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The Reviews Hub - Scotland

The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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