A Love Letter To… Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
I remember in 2017 when the cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie opened up West End Live. My sister and I had been on a National Express since 5am. We’d tried to sleep, bolt upright in the uncomfortable faux leather seats and were jolted awake when we reached Brent Cross. Drowsily, we applied make up using a compact and rolled on deodorant, silently yet nervously willing in our minds that the coach snake through the streets of London quickly. Seeing Marble Arch, we unclicked our seatbelts and once off the coach raced the backstreets of one of the world’s most famous shopping districts; Oxford Street, towards the hundreds of theatre-lovers flocked around Piccadilly Circus, down the strand and into Trafalgar Square.
Peeking over the sides of the gates as we waited in line, with a squint I could make out the cast on stage. Dancing on school desks in their blue uniforms. Hearing the upbeat, endorphin releasing notes of the iconic signature track; And You Don’t Even Know It, we excitedly sang along in unison with strangers in blissful happiness.
That’s the spirit of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, isn’t it? It’s a show about acceptance and loving yourself and those around you. The musical is written by Tom McCrae and is based on the true story of Jamie New, a boy from Sheffield who wanted to go to prom wearing a dress. Supported by his doting mother, best friend, and a group of drag queens who perform down at Legs Eleven, Jamie beats the bullies, fights prejudice and steps out of the darkness as a work of art.
Often outrageous, sometimes flamboyant and with moments of tenderness, the show captures the rollercoaster of teenagehood. There is the fizzling energy of high school as the kids clap hands at school desks talking about future careers, tease their strict teachers and spread gossip like it's the most precious fairydust in the land. Mixed with the safety blanket of a terraced home, thick with Sheffield accented support, an always boiled kettle and an open door. Weaved between these scenes is the half forgotten dress store of Loco Chanel, filled with romanticised, dramatised fantasies of alter-egos and the local rundown nightclub that glitters solely through the energy of the people who step on stage.
Dan Gillespie Sells’ magically melodic music captures and punctuates every twist and turn. The title song races down school corridors and right into your subconscious with snappy rhymes and come of age riddles. ‘Work Of Art’ gives a nod to Madonna’s Vogue era, whilst ‘Limited Edition Prom Night Special’ struts with sass and confidence. In contrast, Jamie’s powerful solo ‘Wall In My Head’ exposes vulnerability and burden, alongside his mother’s shared pain of ballad ‘My Boy’.
"A boy in a dress is something to be laughed at, but a drag queen is something to be feared."
Friendship is at the centre of the show. My sister and I took our friend as a celebration when she got engaged, and our second visit was with another friend who adored Bianca Del Rio. Both experiences are beautiful memories, an experience that shapes you. This is a show to be shared between friends and families that transcends all boundaries be it age, class or race.
Jamie and his best friend, Pritti, on paper are worlds apart but the tenderness of their relationship is etched in my heart as they confront their own dreams and desires. His relationship with the drag queens is touching and admirable, as they take him under his wing ('Over The Top') and adorn him in armour and war paint to become a warrior of a performer. Margaret and Ray deserve a special mention for their comic moments of lightness.
The collective laughter at signature lines; “It really boils my piss!” and the uttered recital of lines by superfans; “Sometimes you’ve gotta grab life by the balls…then you take those balls, you tuck ’em between your legs and you put your best fucking frock on!” is heart-warming for an audience member, be it on their first or fiftieth visit. Similarly, the sharp shock of a spat cuss from the school bully, Dean, or vile cry of the hard consonants of the word; "ugly" hit like salt in the wound each time. There is no getting used to the uncomfortable moments of bullying and consequent self-deprivation that creep in and leave a scar. For a show that on the surface is as light as glitter, there is rawness and grit.
"A little bit of glitter in the grey."
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a beautiful show. It isn’t an extravagant marvel with spellbinding tricks and illusion. The colours are not over-saturated, the sets are not polished and clean, the characters are not always sweet and twee, their stories are not always dramatic and fast-moving. It’s real, in every sense of the word.
Joyous and soul-affirming, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a musical I will forever hold in my heart. It’s a staple piece of British theatre that perfectly documents a turn in a new generation with open hearts, minds and arms, who celebrate individuality and stand proudly together. Created by and performed by actors who live by that very belief.