Anybody searching for a little bit of glitter in the grey needs to strut, stride or simply stroll into a performance of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
This colourful production is a lesson on how to shine as an individual. A celebration of difference. A reminder that you are a work of art. It energetically insists that you learn who you are and love it. And, by championing anyone brave enough to be who they really are, it urges you to reconsider how you treat others.
Everybody has been talking about this new musical since it burst onto the scene in 2017 – the gossip only intensified when the film adaptation was released in 2021. The gutsy comedy narrative is inspired by the real life of openly gay teenager Jamie Campbell, an aspirant drag queen from the north of England. His efforts to overcome prejudice and wear a dress to his school prom were broadcast in a 2011 BBC documentary, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16.
Life is a catwalk for flamboyant Jamie, but the dress is something of a metaphor for anything anyone might want to do. Even if you run away at the mere mention of a runway, you will feel like you can take on the world in style after enjoying this story of belonging.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is an emotional rollercoaster ride from school to stage to self-acceptance for our superstar (“in a Wonderbra”), Jamie New. Jamie has high heels and even higher hopes. He is outwardly confident, but still needs to learn that who you are is not defined by how other people see you.
Layton Williams plays this boy, “who sometimes wants to be a girl” and boy, he knows how to put on a show. He parades, poses and preens like a peacock. He shakes his tail feather, sings big songs and wins us over as an ambitious, anxious adolescent preparing to spread his wings and fly.
Jamie is sometimes quite obnoxious. However, his emotional outbursts are teenage to a T and his sassy remarks are predominantly pre-emptive strikes. So, although his personality is extremely extra, he remains authentic, relatable and likeable. Whether throwing shade or revealing inner vulnerability, Williams gives Jamie charisma, heart and a childlike uncertainty that is really quite poignant. He has the mannerisms and moves to make you smile too!
Supportive individuals ensure Jamie feels seen, heard and valued. His loving mum, Margaret, is his biggest fan. When he has a wobble, she queries what normal even is, pointing out: “this is normal, for you”. Amy Ellen Richardson portrays Margaret with sincerity, soulfully sharing the pleasure and pain of motherhood during soaring ballads. Margaret’s ever-present, bargain-hunting best friend Ray (feisty, funny Sasha Latoya) joins in the cheerleading for Jamie, adding sweary embellishments for emphasis.
Jamie’s bestie is shy, studious Pritti Pasha (Sharan Phull: small in stature, but blessed with a big, beautiful singing voice). Pritti dreams of being a doctor and has her own outsider issues to contend with as a hijab-wearing Muslim girl. Book-smart and quick-witted, she is occasionally bewildered by Jamie, but always there to remind him that he doesn’t need permission to be himself.
Hugo, owner of drag boutique Victor’s Secret, opens Jamie’s eyes to the power of drag as “a process of becoming”. Hugo enthrals Jamie with his alter ego, the legendary Loco Chanelle, before introducing him to a lively trio of queens at a local club. Shane Richie balances caring with comedic as this middle-aged drag mother. He also glams up incredibly well!
It’s not all rainbows for Jamie though, reality drags him down. Careers teacher Miss Hedge (Lara Denning) disrupts his daydreaming with demands that the students need to “keep things real”. She is trying to prepare them for how suffocating and conservative the world can be, but instead starts stifling their enthusiasm for the future. School bully Dean Paxton (George Sampson) constantly wastes oxygen on ignorant taunting. Jamie’s estranged, bigoted Dad (Cameron Johnson, booed like a panto baddie during the standing ovation) rarely breathes the same air as his son because he doesn’t consider him to be “a real boy”.
The songs (played by a live band perched high above the stage, silhouetted behind the backdrop), are a satisfying mixture of catchy pop/rock tunes and heartfelt ballads. Every performer speaks and sings in the northern dialect superbly, although the odd raspy moment in high-adrenaline opening number ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’ risks some of the lyrics being lost. This is more than compensated for by the staging, which sees hyperactive students ricocheting off desks before swivelling them sideways and pushing them together to fashion a catwalk. (The desks are turned the other way later, to build a garden wall that Jamie sashays along.)
Kate Prince’s choreography is entertaining and emotive. The movement incorporates street dance, jazz, contemporary and voguing to capture teenage exuberance, express big feelings and generate music video vibes. Curiously, we only see Jamie in full drag on a video projection, but there is a theatrical costume change at Victor’s Secret.
Performances are British Sign Language interpreted for audience members who are D/deaf or hard of hearing. The interpreter, who knows every word of the show, is positioned unobtrusively to the side of the main-stage action and makes it possible for more people to experience theatre as a place where they belong. More of this, please.
Everybody in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie stands out in their own way and the moral to live as yourself, and let others do the same, is instilled with joy and wit. The script’s cultural references and pandemic-related puns will date quickly, but updates can be made ahead of the next tour. The fabulous message of acceptance means we should keep talking about Jamie!
*Production photography by Matt Crockett.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie continues at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 23 April 2022.
This review is also featured on Total MK.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.