EVERYBODY’S Talking About Jamie.
Yes, everybody should be chatting about Jamie because this is a cracker of a musical which is destined for greatness. If you want some pre or post-Christmas cheer and need to be reminded of the value of inclusiveness, this show will be right up your street. I promise that you will leave the Apollo Theatre beaming at what you have witnessed. I am still smiling more than 96 hours on.
Based on a BBC documentary shown more than six years ago (Jamie: Drag Queen at 16) it follows Jamie New’s journey from the schoolroom to the stage as a drop dead gorgeous Drag Queen. Given the show premiered in Sheffield, it is set in this wonderful city of steel, greasy chip butties and woodbines – as opposed to Durham from where the real Jamie hailed.
It is a difficult journey as Jamie comes across a series of big obstacles. A father who unbeknown to him wants no more to do with him, an unsympathetic careers teacher (Miss Hedge) who believes Jamie’s future post school lies in being a fork lift truck driver and school colleagues (especially Dean) who mock the fact he is gay.
Thankfully, Jamie is not alone. He has the support of his mother (Margaret), his mother’s best friend (Ray) and fellow student Pritti Pasha who like Jamie is an outsider – bespectacled, studious, hijab wearing and openly mocked for still being a virgin.
A titanic battle ensues as Jamie strives to become a Drag Queen and go to the school prom wearing a dress. He is beaten up, barred from going to the party and endures an awful confrontation with his father. Will good prevail over bigotry and prejudice? Will inclusiveness or exclusion win out? You will have to wait and see.
It is a strong story line as you would expect given its authenticity. But there is far more to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. The music is sublime thanks to Dan Gillespie Sells (lead vocalist of The Feeling) and Tom Macrae who wrote the music and lyrics respectively.
There is not a duff song among them with He’s My Boy (sung by Josie Walker as Margaret) the standout tune (hairs tingled on the back of my neck). The school kids, most of whom performed in the original Sheffield production, give the song a great impetus.
As for the cast, it is faultless. Josie Walker excels as Jamie’s mother, as does Mina Anwar who brings great warmth and fun to the part of Ray – unlucky in love, always looking for bargains, and both witty and gobby. A better friend you could not have.
Lucie Shorthouse is superb as Pritti Pasha – unrecognisable from her role as Chantel in the Soho Theatre’s production last year of Roller Diner. Conservative to begin with but Lucie makes Pritti blossom like a glorious rose as she stands four square behind Jamie. A special mention also for Courtney Bowman (Fatimah) who brings great joy to her role.
The scene when Pritti and Fatimah discover they are wearing the same colourful hijabs at the prom is priceless.
As for Jamie, John McCrea is nothing short of sensational. Beautiful, long legged (Bambi like) and peroxide blond, he gives Jamie a tenderness and sensitivity that ensures you are with him all the way. He can also sing. I just hope McCrea is made of strong stuff for his is a demanding role. Walking across tables in red high heels is an accident waiting to happen.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a wonderful exuberant musical which is destined to run and run. Hats off to Jonathan Butterell, director and co-writer (along with Macrae) for creating a work of beauty which recognises the wonders of youth and multi-culturalism. It is 2017’s answer to Kinky Boots.
Yes, you can nick-pick if you want – a father-son relationship that is not really explained and a teacher and school bully who at the death capitulate too easily. But I am splitting peroxide blond hairs.
Go and marvel at a youthful cast that is determined to bring joy into your lives. Joy in a country where divisiveness still (sadly) holds the upper hand.
Jamie New: John McCrea
Margaret New: Josie Walker
Ray: Mina Anwar
Miss Hedge: Tamsin Carroll
Pritti Pasha: Lucie Shorthouse
Director: Jonathan Butterell
Designer: Anna Fleischle
Choreographer: Kate Prince
Music: Dan Gillespie Sells
Book and lyrics: Tom Macrae