Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Saturday 18 August 2018 at 7.30pm
After watching the live broadcast of this West End musical in the quiet crowd of the Odeon on Union Street in Bristol this summer, actually attending the London show became a life goal.
Everything good that’s been written about this show is totally true. And, after some thirty years plus of watching musicals in Bristol and London, it’s definitely the best one I’ve ever seen.
It’s inspired by the true story of Durham teenager Jamie Campbell featured in – Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, which was broadcast on BBC3 in 2011.
The show transports the story from Durham to a council estate in Sheffield where Jamie New lives with his single parent mum Margaret. The story follows Jamie’s journey from openly gay teen to drag queen star, with the ultimate goal to wear a dress at his final school prom.
The battle against the school to wear this dress is not the true heart of the story. It’s not simply about Jamie’s good triumphing over evil storyline. It’s about relationships and how the positive and negative dynamics of these get us through the bad times and support us towards the good.
At the true heart of this musical is the bond between a mother and son. It’s about the sacrifices she makes, the lengths she goes to protect him and the encouragement she gives whilst he builds the confidence to become who he wants to be.
It’s also about the strength of friendships and how important they are in the face of negativity – the abandonment from Jamie’s father, bulling by peers and unrelenting Y11 teacher Miss Hedge.
Whilst Jamie is confident with being openly gay in school, finding the inner strength to go public with and develop his drag persona is mirrored with the stumbling baby steps he takes with the killer red heels he gets for his birthday.
It’s hard to believe that this is the first book and lyrics Tom MacCrae has ever created for theatre. It has the perfect balance of humour, drama, bittersweet and feel-good. Dan Gillespie Sells’ music, with Kate Prince’s choreography has echoes of Kylie, Madonna and at times, the angst of 90s Terry Hall as it moves through pop and ballads.
By the end of Act I, I could have happily sat down and watched the first part straight over again. It’s impossible to have a favourite song or moment. There’s the energy of the hyper Year 11 class in And You Don’t Even Know it, right through to the rallying battle cry of Over The Top.
The second half doesn’t dip in energy at all, even through the difficult scene of possibly Worst Dad in the World abandoning his son directly to his face. Ken Christiansen pulls a real blinder as a total bastard, a complete contrast to his flamboyant cover performance of Tray Sophisticay during the same show.
Every performance is perfect. John McCrea developed the role of Jamie from the show’s very beginnings. Having seen him live, it would be hard to imagine anyone else playing the titular role. It’s an iconic performance from an iconic performer. He’s one of those rare one-offs, much like the original Jamie Campbell.
The way the characters have been observed throughout is brilliant. We all know these people from our own lives and experiences. Perhaps that’s the beauty of a show based on a true story from our own time. It all falls into place perfectly and I think that’s quite a rare thing these days.
There’s the horror of every Year 11 secondary school class right there on stage, Shobna Gulati’s gutsy Ray with her poundshop knock-offs, Courtney Bowman’s horror as Fatimah when Pritti arrives at prom with the same hijab.
There’s Tamsin Carroll’s disengagement as a secondary school teacher with her negative put-downs – we all had one of those teachers no matter how long ago we went to school.
There’s Lee Ross’ fiery new lease of life as Hugo/Loco Chanel. There’s Lucie Shorthouse’s lovely performance as Pritti Pasha with her genuine and beautiful friendship with Jamie.
And there, throughout is Rebecca McKinnis as Margaret New with her tear-jerking rendition of He’s My Boy that sums up single parenting in one heart rending performance.
The show originally started off life at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in February 2017 for just a couple of short weeks. Its resounding success saw it transfer to the Apollo Theatre in the same year. And in 2018, it beamed live into cinemas across the UK just a couple of months after Warp Films announced they would be producing a film version of the musical.
The booking information states that ‘parental discretion is advised’ when buying tickets, and under fives won’t be admitted. In terms of age guidance, we would say it’s suitable for children aged ten years upwards, though the show features swearing and sexual references. However, it’s not much worse than you hear at a city centre bus stop, or outside of the window if you live on a gritty, diverse inner city council estate.
It’s not a children’s show, but many children will be able to relate to the sometimes hard hitting themes in this show. It’s wonderful that there is an accessible and well-crafted mainstream musical embracing ‘divergent gender identities’ and it’s totally begging for a UK and Ireland tour.
For more information about the show or to book, visit: www.everybodystalkingaboutjamie.co.uk
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is currently Playing at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Ave in London. Whilst we usually cover Bristol and the South West, occasionally we write about things we think are brilliant elsewhere in the UK.
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