He’s a superstar, and he wants you to know it: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is simply spectacular.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Having opened at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield in February 2017 before transferring to West End in November, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is inspired by the BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. It tells the tale of Jamie New, a 16-year-old schoolboy who dreams of becoming a drag queen. While he has a brilliant support system in the form of his best friend Pritti, his mother Margaret and her best friend Ray, he also faces opposition in the form of schoolteacher Miss Hedge, bully Dean and his own father.
So what makes this show so extraordinary? I mean, first of all, the fact that it exists is pretty revolutionary. It features a lead character who wants to be a drag queen, and this literally drives the plot. Another great thing about Jamie is the fact that he’s gay, but that this isn’t the focus of his storyline throughout the musical. Furthermore, it’s a main character who comes from a council estate, from a poor background and is, now, a POC. The fact that a mainstream West End production has this sort of representation is all kinds of amazing, for starters.
Secondly, the performances by the entire cast are incredible. The cast is headed by Layton Williams, who plays Jamie with a fierce, sassy bravado that is juxtaposed by quiet vulnerability in other moments. While he struts around the classroom in opening number You Don’t Even Know It, he hesitates and contemplates in The Wall in my Head. It’s brave of a production to have a main character who isn’t flawless, and we see Jamie make the sort of impetuous decisions that we might have made at that age too. There’s a particular moment in Act 2 where Jamie epically misplaces his anger towards his mother, which collectively makes the audience wonder what he’s thinking. Not only does he act, but he performs the hell out of all of his numbers, strutting around and owning the stage in ridiculously high heels. He is loud, brash and all-out incredible.
Delivering an equally, if not more-so show-stopping performance is Rebecca McKinnis as Jamie’s mother Margaret New. She sings not just one but two heartbreaking solos, one of which focuses upon her wishfulness for a reversal of her own fortune, while the other is about the sacrifices one makes in the service of devoted motherhood. Her vocals are both soaring and affecting, and her performance is tearjerking as we see the selflessness of her actions towards her son.
Sabrina Sandhu portrays Jamie’s best friend Pritti, whose solo in Act 2 is definitely a standout moment of the whole show. The nuanced simplicity with which she plays the role makes her a compelling character and the journey she makes throughout the musical is delightful.
Now we come to the celebrity castings: Faye Tozer of Steps fame is delightful as the acerbic Miss Hedge, delivering brilliant vocals and an assured performance. She blends in seamlessly with the rest of the cast. On the other hand, Bianca del Rio is somewhat of a distraction. Entailing a small rewrite into being an American, she portrays retired drag queen Hugo, whose alter-ego is Loco Chanelle. From the first song, it is apparent that this is not a spellbinding calibre of performer. However, she was certainly a hit with the audience, being met with a round of applause every time she walked on stage (regardless of whether or not it is appropriate). Regardless, I can’t help but wonder that without the sheen of celebrity status, would anybody in their right mind hire her to play this role? If the lure of celebrity castings helps keep the show running, however, I suppose that is the price that has to be paid.
The set is delightful and scene changes creative, though I did notice that some of the set pieces, in particular the desk, are quite noisy and can be distracting during some of the performances. Furthermore, the beauty of a dance number during If I Met Myself Again is somewhat reduced by the obvious clumping of feet as they meet the floor, which you would have thought would have been thought about at this stage.
The music, written by The Feeling frontrunner Dan Gillespie Sells combines uplifting, toe-tapping and high energy numbers with mournful and contemplative ballads that are sure to have you humming all the way home. Meanwhile, the book and lyrics provided by Tom MacRae is brimful of humour and heartwarming moments.
One element of note is that some characters who are slightly more removed from Jamie can come across as two-dimensional, particularly the characters of Miss Hedge and Jamie’s dad. While to me, I agree with the decision to make Jamie’s dad somewhat two-dimensional because of his absent role from Jamie’s life, I never really felt like I understood Miss Hedge’s motivation by the end of the show, not to mention my confusion as to why a careers teacher is the one responsible for organising a school Prom, and also why she seems so determined to beat Jamie down from striving for his dreams.
In short, the delightful and engaging performances, coupled with the accomplished and original choreography and score make Everybody’s Talking About Jamie an absolutely sublime evening of entertainment. If you have not already, you need to see this.
You can find tickets for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie here.
Faye Tozer is playing Miss Hedge until 3 August.
Bianca del Rio is playing Loco Chanelle until 29 June.
I find the character of Jamie’s mum incredibly compelling. She is so supportive and loving of Jamie, and her songs are insane.
Pritti’s song is lovely. It’s nice how a musical which doesn’t include a romantic subplot still finds time to explore platonic and parental love is such an authentic and moving way.
At the performance I saw, Ray was played superbly by Melissa Jacques who understudies the roles of Margaret, Miss Hedge and Ray. Understudies/swings will never cease to amaze me. How they remember so much and can step onto the stage to do multiple roles is insane, and they get so much less credit for doing so much more! Injustice!!!