Director: Matt Ryan
Book, Music and Lyrics: Dan Gillespie Sells
Hot on the heels of the Amazon Prime film (well, give or take a pandemic) Everybody’s Talking About Jamie makes a triumphant return to its home town with the feel good extravaganza that is the tale of Jamie New (Layton Williams) and his prom dress drag queen daydream life dream. The catchy song filled show tells a fictionalised version of Sheffield local boy Jamie Campbell, who shocked the world back in the tender year of 2011 by announcing that he was going to attend prom in a dress. An act which it can be hoped wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow nowadays, but certainly caused a stir in the blue collar, former steel working city at the time. Jamie announces his drag ambitions to supportive mother Margaret (Amy Ellen Richardson) and initially less enthusiastic but soon solidly behind him best friend Pritti (Sharan Phull) and a whirlwind is set in motion, taking in the glamorous Loco Chanelle (aka Hugo, aka Shane Ritchie, who has been part of the touring cast for so long now we can surely legitimately refer to him as a drag queen instead of Alfie from Eastenders). Of course it can’t all be glitter and ginormous heels, and hefty dose of reality drags our hero down through the bullying influences of Jamie’s peer Dean, teacher Miss Hedge and absentee Father (Britain’s Got Talent’s George Sampson, Lara Denning and Cameron Johnson respectively).
Be prepared for a roller-coaster of emotions with this one. The show starts strong and bouncy with And You Don’t Even Know It, showing off the wonderfully bombastic singing and dancing skills of the cast as the amazing transforming nature of Anna Fleischle’s fantastic set, which transforms desks effortless from school tables to runways to a terrace backyard. The energy and hyperactivity is maintained through many songs (Out of the Darkness and the titular Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will stick in your head forever more) before hitting the audience right in the gut and pulling on the collective heart strings when the ballads drop (if Beautiful or If I Met Myself Again doesn’t get you, then He’s My Boy will certainly have you in tears – Phull and Richardson’s voices are transcendent). Unfortunately This Was Me, the AIDS influenced song from the film hasn’t made it into the stage show yet, but it does at least mean Ritchie gets to belt out The Legend of Loco Chanelle, a definite crowd pleaser.
The show takes in themes not just of gender expression and sexuality, but of the teenage experience as a whole. In addition to the less usual problem of padded underwear and picking out a drag name, the show also tackles every day experiences like being looked down on for your intelligence and ambition, specific cultural issues like being Muslim in a multicultural society, and living on the poverty line in a single parent household. All these themes are handled with a well balanced mix of humour and pathos, with light relief especially well provided by mum’s bargain hunting bestie Ray (a fantastically funny Sasha Latoya).
By the end of the show, the entire audience is ready to go to bat for Jamie and his dreams, exactly as they should be. Because Everyone’s Talking About Jamie is so much more than the story of a boy in a dress. It’s a call for self expression and acceptance that needs to be shouted especially loud right now, with the J K Rowlings and suspiciously protective new fans of female sports making trouble for the trans community, or with America’s new, misguided ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation. Jamie is never anything less than his authentic self, something everyone should be free to be, regardless of something as inconsequential as gender. If the bigots in this musical can learn that in 2 hours 40 minutes, then anyone can.
Runs until 16th April 2022