Liz Ratcliffe now understands why everyone is talking about Jamie.
I had heard about Everyone’s talking about Jamie and seen that it had won award after award after award, but with the onset of Covid and being locked-down, the show took a little longer than originally intended to reach the Lowry. I had the absolute privilege of finding out whether it lived up to the hype and believe me – it did – in spades! What a fantastic show, which thoroughly deserves our five star rating!
This is my first trip to a theatre since the lockdown restrictions have been lifted, and it was so wonderful to see the house completely full. It was not just me who was excited to see Jamie last night – the audience comprised every age group, interspersed with many a fabulous drag queen!
Jamie New, a 16-year-old misfit in Sheffield, has a secret – but it doesn’t stay one for long. The news of his aspirations to become a drag queen soon sweep through his school, and he embarks on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment – out of a classroom, away from the bigotry of a deadbeat dad, and into high heels.
Every element of this show works beautifully together. The music, by The Feeling’s frontman Dan Gillespie Sells, is a clever mix of powerfully catchy, polished foot-tappers and truthful, heart-wrenching numbers. The show is a feel-good merry-go-round that embraces ideas of identity, expression, inclusivity and bubbles under with teenage emotional angst. Sells has crafted some standout pieces, notably the title track which opens the show with a burst of colour and optimism, and in contrast ‘The Wall in My Head’, in which Jamie revisits the hurtful comments from his homophobic father as he struggles to get the confidence to leave the house in heels for the first time.
And at the show’s very heart is Layton Williams as Jamie – the queen-in-waiting – who is captivating, flamboyant and absolutely fabulous in the role. Charismatically sharp and sassy during the showstoppers, pulse-racingly choreographed by Kate Prince, he deftly reveals the ache of vulnerability behind his character’s catwalk strut
While most of the characters exist to orbit Jamie, they still have their own stories and these are well told. As Pritti, Jamie’s best friend who wants to be a doctor, Sharan Phull is funny and affecting. Phull delivers a slick, polished and incredibly nuanced performance as the bookish Pritti who must battle her own fair share of bigotry and bullying, mainly at the hands of school bully Dean Paxton, played wonderfully by George Sampson. Her stand out moment comes in the delivery of her beautiful and emotive solo ‘It Means Beautiful’, where she gets the chance to demonstrate her beautiful vocals.
Amy Ellen Richardson is superb in the role of Margaret New, Jamie’s brilliantly supportive, resilient and stoic mother. Richardson delivers an astonishingly emotional performance, particularly in the second act with her note-perfect delivery of the highly charged ballad ‘He’s My Boy’. Shobna Gulati plays off Richardson’s Margaret as the ballsy and gobby Ray who provides many of the light-hearted moments of the show.
The Jamie cast is so strong that this should be a review praising each and every one of their wonderful performances. Shane Richie’s gravel-voiced drag queen turns out to be a most unusual mentor / father figure and he also looks rather fantastic in drag as Loco Chanelle, a far cry from the Queen Vic! The wider ensemble is a joy, as are the three fabulous drag queens, Sandra Bollock, Tray Sophisticay and Laika Virgin portrayed by Garry Lee, Rhys Taylor and JP Mccue respectively.
Despite the struggles that Jamie is facing, he isn’t ashamed of who he is, he’s simply scared of what he could achieve if he were brave enough to try. Book writer, Tom MacRae, has written a beautifully rounded, multi-dimensional character in Jamie New, and he has Jamie Campbell – the real-life person on whom Jamie New is based – as his inspiration. Director, Jonathan Butterell, complements the writing with delicate direction that mixes up the pace and avoids drifting into saccharine territory.
Storytelling that can help to change the world
The show dialogues has been updated with a healthy bout of jokes about mask wearing and social distancing. Jokes about the impossibility of dating during a pandemic go down well in the auditorium!
Jamie is a musical about striving for acceptance in the face of the most extreme adversity. It’s about how challenging finding your true path can be when faced with the most horrifying narrow-mindedness and bigotry. The show doesn’t shy away from exploring some serious themes including bullying, racism, abandonment, homophobia, and transphobia to name a few.
What is so very special about this show is how sensitively and, surprisingly comically the content is delivered. Jamie is incredibly and brutally funny at times. These serious themes are handled with a raw and honest level of humour and reality that at one moment kicks you in the gut and has you howling with laughter the next. This is storytelling that can help to change the world!★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie UK tour is at The Lowry, Salford Quays from 1-12 September 2021. Age recommendation 12 plus.