When the Sheffield musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie made the leap to London’s West End in November last year, a television show from 2011 reappeared on BBC iPlayer. Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 was a surprisingly non-judgemental BBC Three documentary which followed a working class teenage boy from the north east of England who wanted to go to his school prom in a dress. Whilst watching it I fell in love with Jamie and his unfailingly supportive mother, and so it was no surprise to me that this feel-good true story became the inspiration for a musical.
Last night was my second visit to see Jamie and, seeing as the show is now running until October, I thought I’d write a review to see if I can tempt a few of you into going along as well. The main characters in the musical are clearly based on the mother and son from the documentary, but this fictional tale is set in Sheffield with a great group of friends (new and old) helping to capture the heart and soul of a story of identity, self-discovery and confidence.
The instantly catchy music is by Brit School educated Dan Gillespie Sells (singer-songwriter from The Feeling), with lyrics by screenwriter Tom MacRae that move the story forwards rather than simply embellishing the moment where we left the action. This isn’t just a play with songs, it’s a proper full-on musical, and there’s not a single song that had me longing for it to be over. Even my most beloved musicals usually have one or two tracks that I would skip over if watching on a media I can control. In contrast, every single song in Jamie is a joy which is partly down to great songwriting and partly the wonderful performances.
John McCrea is great as Jamie New (although Drag Race fans probably need to be warned that there’s something of the Laganja Estranja about some of his performance!), bringing a fierce confidence and also a warm vulnerability to the main character. The first time I went to see the show, I saw an understudy play Jamie’s mum Margaret. She was extremely capable and did an excellent job so I wondered how the show would differ with Josie Walker back in the role. She was, quite simply, astonishing. The emotion that she brings to every scene and every song is just brilliant and I can see why both she and her co-star have been nominated for this year’s Olivier Awards.
The show has already won at the WhatsOnStage Awards, including Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for the wonderful Lucie Shorthouse, who plays Jamie’s best friend Pritti Pasha. That friendship is one of the truly lovely things about Jamie, as these seemingly completely different teenagers teach each other (and the audience) so much about understanding, acceptance and being yourself in a world full of haters. Both her and Jamie stand up to the school bully in a way that most of us were never confident enough to do at 16. However, teenage me would spot herself in well-behaved revision-loving Pritti instantly, although she has much more ambition than I’ve ever had!
This is what lies at the heart of Jamie and ensures that the story has meaning for everyone, even if you’ve never been the outcast at high school, lived in the north of England, or have no interest in drag. It’s about discovering the real you and cherishing those relationships with family and friends that lift you up rather than bring you down. It’s not all about the writing and the performances though. Every part of the show is delightful – from the clever sets and lighting, to the down-to-earth feel of the costumes and the comedy of the drag queens’ backstage Tit Box – coming together to deliver a truly heartwarming evening’s entertainment. It may not have the wow-factor of epic productions like The Producers, Singin’ in the Rain or Book of Mormon, but it has an authentic and uplifting charm that means I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending it.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is on until 6th October 2018 at the Apollo Theatre in London.
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