“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” tells the story of 16-year-old Jamie New (Layton Williams), as he battles with his family, his class mates and himself in an effort to realise his dream to be a drag queen. Loosely based on the story of Jamie Campbell (who featured in BBC3 documentary Drag Queen at 16 in 2011), the musical is filled with heart and explores many different reactions and attitudes towards Jamie’s ambition.
The main storyline of the show revolves around Jamie’s relationship with his mum Margaret (Amy Ellen Richardson), who encourages her son to follow his ambitions and buys him a pair of heels for his birthday. She is also hiding secrets from him though – forging messages from Jamie’s estranged father and worried about what the other people at school will say. The way both characters are written and performed makes the relationship between them feel very strong and real, so when an argument occurs between the two of them in the latter half of the show, the audience feel just as heartbroken as the characters.
The other facet of the show explores Jamie’s life at school, in particular his relationship with school swot Pritti (Sharan Phull). In a way, Pritti and Jamie both undergo the same journey. Whilst many similar coming-of-age shows may explore the idea of “finding oneself”, Pritti and Jamie are both extremely certain of who they are. Jamie wants to be a drag queen, and Pritti wants to be a doctor. The show instead explores how they grow to feel confident and embrace these roles, despite others at the school trying to bring them down. Pritti points out that teasing her for being clever isn’t an insult because it’s true, similarly to the way in which Jamie refuses to feel ashamed for being gay, because he is.
The musical is filled with a mix of fast-paced dance numbers and emotional ballads. One of my favourite moments of the show involved Margaret singing about her youth, and questioning how she could ever have fallen for someone as nasty and vindictive as Jamie’s father. The song is accompanied by two members of the chorus (Kazmin Borrer and Ryan Hughes) retelling the story through a dance number, which helped to heighten the emotion and really drive home the idea that mistakes happen all the time, and Margaret won’t be the first or last person to be led astray during their youth.
The show also included Shane Richie as drag queen Loco Chanelle, who takes Jamie under his wing and gets him his first gig at drag club “Legs 11”. For me, Richie was one of the weaker cast members, and I struggled to catch some of the words in the songs that he sang. Britain’s Got Talent winner George Sampson starred as school bully Dean. My eyes were continually drawn to him during the dance numbers, reminding everyone exactly why he deserved to be crowned champion of Britain’s Got Talent all those years ago.
It was extremely refreshing to see a show with such a diverse cast, properly demonstrating the different mix of people and cultures that exist within secondary schools in Britain today. It made the school feel real, and the relationships between the students feel natural (much more preferable than other high school musicals, where all cast members look like Hollywood teens).
Overall, this was an excellent show, filled with rich characters and driven by an emotional story that I’m sure resonated with everyone in the audience in some way. This is more than a play about a boy wearing a dress – this is about teenagers becoming adults and learning to believe in themselves in the best way possible.
Tom Morley, February 2022