Quick Change Review: Everybody's Talking About Jamie (Tour)
How do you defeat a school bully, fight prejudice, and celebrate your true self amidst slurs of bigotry?
With a doting mother, a supportive best friend, a lippy that Paris Hilton wears whilst shopping at ALDI, and a group of drag queens.
Oh, and a pair of killer heels often helps, too.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a musical that doesn’t miss a trick. It’s fun, it’s flamboyant and it’s fair.
Telling the story of Jamie New (Layton Williams), a drag queen at 16, all he wants is to make it through the last few weeks of high school with his bestie, Pritti (Sharan Phull), and attend the prom wearing a dress. Unfortunately, school bully Dean (George Sampson) and an absent father (Cameron Johnson) aren't making things easy.
Luckily, at home, in a Sheffield mid-terrace, the kettle is always boiled, and arms are open as Jamie is supported without bounds by his doting mother, Margaret (Amy Ellen Richardson) and loveable neighbour Ray (Shobna Gulati).
Williams’ Jamie is an instant hit. In the crowd, we cheer as he steps into his first heels, and we smile to ourselves as he catches our eyes and ever so slightly acknowledges his audience.
These moments of recognition add to the confident allure of Jamie New, who on the surface is full of self-assuredness and pride. Yet there is an ever-present vulnerability that we see in the doleful ‘Wall In My Head’ and frustration in ‘Ugly In This Ugly World’. You can't help but root for him.
The underlying grit of the show is what makes it so powerful. The drunken youths on park benches, homophobic snipes, and dimly lit bus stops amongst worn down drag bars and long-forgotten frock shops paint an honest picture of working-class neighbourhoods and the challenges communities face to confront adversity.
There is, of course, glitter in the grey. In this show, it is the effortless comic timing of iconic lines from Ray (“It really boils my piss!”) eyebrows (if you know, you know), and illuminating frocks (just one of the highlights from the wardrobe department). The writing is simply genius and gets sharper and sharper. On this viewing, the dynamite script has been updated to reflect a Covid-friendly classroom. Cue quips about teenagers using protection and the perks of social distancing.
Jamie’s teenagehood plays out as an emotional rollercoaster with his unconventional mentor, Hugo (Shane Richie) / former famed drag queen Loco Chanel, riding shotgun and holding on to her wig. Richie’s Hugo is a little rough around the edges but is charming all the same.
The friendship framed between Jamie and Pritti is touching and thoughtful, opening conversations about stereotypes and insecurity. Phull’s rendition of ‘It Means Beautiful’ is delivered with grace, and the character’s development throughout is beautiful to watch.
Of course, Jamie and his mother share the most tender of moments. Richardson’s Margaret is understated yet deeply powerful. Her solos; ‘If I Met Myself Again’ and ‘He’s My Boy’ are rousing and delivered exquisitely.
The ensemble of Jamie’s classmates are absolutely dynamite, and each shapes a familiar character that scores laughs. They’re super-spreaders of gossip, menaces to their teacher, the bitter Miss Hedge (Lara Denning) and firecrackers with fancy fast footwork. Kate Prince’s inventive choreography is A*, mixing contemporary sequences with clever hand-clapping routines and street-dance inspired group sequences.
Dan Gillespie Sell’s joyful yet punchy score soars high. Each song punctuates a defining moment in the story and indulges the opportunity to rejoice in it. From the noir dramatic ‘The Legend of Loco Chanel’ to the Madonna-esque urgency of ‘Work Of Art’ to the soulful and unifying anthem ‘Over The Top’; each puts a character into the spotlight.
There’s a place where you belong, and no matter your age, race, religion or sexuality; it’s with Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
Everybody's Talking About Jamie plays at Curve until Sat 25 September and continues on tour throughout 2021 - 2022.