Writer/Lyrics: Tom McRae/Jonathan Butterell
Music: Dan Gillespie Sells
Director: Matt Ryan
Choreographer: Kate Prince
Jamie Campbell was quite an unremarkable boy growing up on a council estate in a small former mining village in County Durham. He was brought up largely by his single mum, who realised that from a young age Jamie was different, but no one knew he had a burning career ambition – Jamie wanted to be a drag queen when he grew up. A shocking enough ambition at the tender age of 16, but closer to home, Jamie wanted to attend the school prom in a dress.
The documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 was shown on BBC 3 in 2011. The rest as they say, is history… three very enthusiastic guys – Jonathan Butterell, Tom McRae and Dan Gillespie Sells – were inspired by the documentary and the irrepressible Jamie, and got together to create the award-winning musical Everyone’s Talking about Jamie. Set in Sheffield with several references to local areas and Supertram, the show premiered there in February 2017, made the West End 18 months later, and is now starting a national tour with international dates planned.
The production is fabulous and flamboyant. Set against a simple windowed backdrop onto which scenes are projected, the characters are all larger than life and full of energy. The opening school scene could be any year 11 class in any northern secondary school, widely diverse characters, discussing career options and upcoming exams… until they start to sing and dance. Every member of the group is exceptionally talented, and the dance moves compete with the repartee. The wonderful Layton Williams reprises his role as Jamie from the West End. A lithe figure with legs going on for ever and beautifully cropped, dyed hair, he has the ability to perfectly combine Jamie’s confidence and burning ambition, with the sometimes overwhelming self-doubt that surfaces after brushes with his dad (a nasty bullying character epitomised by Cameron Johnson), and the school bullies led by Dean (aka George Sampson of Britain’s Got Talent fame). Jamie’s mum Margaret is his rock, supporting him in his ambitions and dreams. Amy Ellen Richardson’s emotional rendition of He’s My Boy totally sums up her maternal feelings for him, but on a lighter note the mum/son relationship can never get too soppy with Margaret’s best mate Ray around. Shobna Gulati brings a wonderful character to the stage complete with brash nature, bad language and retail bargains. When Jamie gives up on his dad, he declares that Ray will step to the job. Maybe the most touching relationship in the whole production however is that between Jamie and his best friend Pritti (Sharan Phull). They have much to bond over, natural bully targets: Jamie has his issues, and Pritti is a Muslim girl with a Hindu name (‘Pretty? Were my parents having a laugh’), who wants to be a doctor and can’t understand why a girl would want to wear a dress, let alone a boy. There’s a wonderful scene in Pritti’s room with space wallpaper, Buzz Lightyear and a lighted globe that would melt the hardest heart.
Then of course there are the drag queens. Shane Richie, Garry Lee, JP McCue and Rhys Taylor bring to life the brazen, loud and extrovert crowd of Loco Chanelle, Sandra Bollock, Laika Virgin and Tray Sophisticay respectively. Whilst Shane Richie doesn’t seem to be totally at home in his heels or his frock, they are a brilliant bunch who welcome Jamie with open arms and padded underwear, coaching him rudely in the unsubtle art of drag.
This show is a great (or to use a hackneyed phrase – “feel good”) one that all ages should see. We all need to realise that everyone should be allowed to be who they want to be, and no one has the right to judge that. Not every dream can come true, but with grit and determination, some of them can, if criticism is ignored. On ‘home turf’ on the night of the review the audience came Out of the Darkness and really went with the flow, an uplifting and fabulous evening.
Runs until Saturday 29 February 2020