Book and Lyrics: Tom MacRae
Music: Dan Gillespie Sells
Director: Matt Ryan
Dan Gillespie Sells, Jonathan Butterell and Tom MacRae have created a heart warming, hilarious musical inspired by the story of a documentary about Jamie Campbell who wanted to be a drag queen at the age of 16.
Fans of the original documentary (produced by Firecracker & shown on BBC3 in August 2011) entitled Jamie Drag Queen at 16 or of the more recent Amazon Film production, will not be disappointed by this vivacious live stage version. No previous experience of Jamie is required, a newbie to the story will enjoy this equally as an ardent fan, there is so much to love.
The story opens at school where we catch a glimpse of the orchestra cleverly stationed above the action in what looks like a classic modern school comprehensive building in Sheffield. This is the beginning of the ingeneous use of the stage as the teenage students jump on and off of desks (next turned into a garden wall as Jamie comes home to a little surprise birthday party from his mum and her friend Ray).
At school, Jamie has been away ‘with the fairies’ as the class discuss with their teacher Miss Hedge about their career options & as Jamie later jokes, his psychological career assessment has concluded he would be most suited to jobs like fork lift truck driver or prison guard. This boy, ‘who sometimes likes to dress as a girl’ seems the least likely candidate for a prison or a pit.
Jamie New (his surname changed for the musical) is wonderfully played by Layton Williams and the audience is spellbound by him. He captures his mannerisms, the Sheffield accent (the northern vowels are also beautifully spoken & sung by all the cast), his vulnerability, youth & humour. As he strives to be seen for who he truly is, an aspiring drag queen with a desire to shine at his school prom in a dress. Also, trying to find her place in the world is his best friend Pritti Pasha, a clever muslim girl with courage and a generous heart played beautifully by Sharan Phull.
The story has it’s share of baddies—Dean (the school bully played by George Sampson), Miss Hedge (Lara Denning) who keeps trying to get Jamie to fit the mould, most notably in a hilarious scene where Jamie has attempted to paint his first drag eyebrows on in the school toilet, and his father (Marlon G.Day) who cannot accept him. However, love consistently comes his way from his Mum Margaret New, played by Amy Ellen Richardson (often to be found in her kitchen, which appears on stage in an instant with this clever set) with her straight talking, swearing, funny friend Ray, whose vulnerability and strength shine through too. The audience are mesmerised by Richardson’s voice, which is powerful and sweet as the audience are lost in her world, grey sky, trees and images of the Sheffield houses projected above with emotive songs such as, He’s my boy.
More humour and support for Jamie comes in the form of Hugo/LocoChanelle, the drag queen dress shop owner played fabulously by funny Roy Haylock/Bianca Del Rio with warmth and sparkle (looking every bit the glamorous part as Loco Chanelle; receving a spontaneous applause in her transformation).
The production is littered with stonking songs throughout that stay with you after the show and fantastic choreography—the supporting cast of Jamie’s school buddies tease, mock, give support to Jamie and dance their way through the show giving the audience great joy, as well as a supporting cast of three eye wateringly funny drag queens.
This is a show with a huge heart, a captivating story about being seen for who you truly are., with fabulous songs. It will make you laugh, maybe shed a few tears and left this audience standing on it’s feet singing along and whooping with joy.
The real Jamie Campbell was also spotted in the audience in sparkly tiara, skirt, eye liner and a mask, watching his younger nieve self find his way in the world. He looked pleased with the show, and he should be, his story made a cold grey December night a whole lot brighter.