Here we go then, yet another musical I’ve not long got around to seeing! I’d heard a lot about it though, thanks to close friends and the outpouring of love for it on my Twitter timeline. A recent casting decision I totally got behind finally gave me the push towards heading back to the Apollo theatre for the first time since 2015 to see Everybody’s Talking About Jamie! Originally premiering in Sheffield in 2017, and inspired by the 2011 BBC Three documentary: Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, the show follows Jamie New in his final days of secondary school where he is facing an uncertain future. His teacher, Miss Hedge, thinks Jamie’s career lies in forklift truck driving. Jamie’s mum, Margaret wants her son to have the world, and does the best she can to scrimp and save to give him a good life. The school bully, Dean, believes Jamie won’t amount to anything. Jamie knows better though: Jamie wants to be a drag queen. Jamie’s going to be a star….
Up until very recently I was one of those theatre fans who liked to know what I was getting into when I booked a show that was new to me; I’d always familiarise myself with the cast recording to see how I liked the music and get a feel for things. Come From Away has been the first show in a very long time where I broke my habit, and I think in light of that the score is one of my favourite things about the show, and hearing it in context made it more powerful. I wanted my reaction to Jamie to be in that same vein and for it to be a surprise, so I made a point of not listening to the original cast recording however much friends would encourage me. My other logic was, the cast I see are going to be different and put their own spin on roles and lyrics, so I felt better having no basis for comparison. I’m really glad I held off, as for the most part, I really liked the score. Singer songwriter Dan Gillespie Sells (best known as the frontman of The Feeling) music feels fun, fresh and full of attitude, but there are also some quieter, more poignant melodies as well, tied together with Tom Macrae’s lyrics. Now a few weeks later I do find myself only humming particular tunes and definitely have my favourites in the score, but I believe it might grow on me more in future visits. It’s great to see such a varied mix of styles within the music, too.
I thoroughly enjoyed Anna Fleischle’s striking and versatile set – we go from Miss Hedge’s class, to Jamie’s kitchen, to Victor’s Secret and beyond, all with a few maneuvers! Lucy Carter’s clever lighting design enhances the atmosphere wonderfully and there is some striking video design from Luke Halls, some I wished were more prominent. In my opinion though, the jewel in the creative team’s crown at Jamie is Katie Prince’s choreography. It’s so vibrant and energetic, encompassing a whole range of styles, everything from street to a beautiful contemporary piece during “If I Met Myself Again”. As this visit was my introduction to the show, I probably didn’t pick up on all the little intricacies and detail in the movement, so I look forward to returning and experiencing it again sometime…
Layton Williams leads the cast as Jamie. He first came into my theatregoing life as Angel in the UK tour of Rent, where I fell completely head over wheels for him. I’m ecstatic, then, that he’s been my original Jamie. He has sass and charm by the bucketload of course, but I found his more emotional scenes with his mum and best friend Pritti to be my favourites because he shows such vulnerability and grace. Funny without being stereotypically too over the top, Layton’s take on Jamie is a perfectly well judged balance of light and shade, and it was great to see him take Jamie on his arc throughout the show with such confidence and depth.
One of the things I like most about the show is that while it’s predominantly about Jamie and told through his eyes, the supporting cast often have their own little arcs and character development going on throughout, and most notably in the case of Margaret, Jamie’s mum and his best friend Pritti, I found myself invested in them just as much. Rebecca McKinnis charmed me as Margaret, she’s loving and fiercely supportive of Jamie, so much so that she rarely takes a moment for herself. That’s why her songs are so poignant, and it’s lovely seeing her play off Sejal Keshwala’s hilarious, warm and witty Ray.
Sabrina Sandhu was a favourite of mine as Pritti. Shy and bookish, she finds a friend in Jamie, and takes his lead as she tries to come out of her own shell. I felt she and Layton have wonderfully endearing chemistry and I was reminded so much of my own important friendships and the good they do me watching them! Not forgetting her vocal is absolutely stunning: “It Means Beautiful” was my absolute highlight of the show.
I’ve always been a theatregoer who can be a little bit on the fence when it comes to star casting. When it works, it does so really well in my experience, and am thrilled to say it does here, with RuPaul’s Drag Race alum and season six winner Bianca Del Rio/Roy Haylock currently playing the roles of Hugo and drag queen Loco Chanelle. Being a Drag Race fan, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to see one of my favourite queens in the flesh, and I’m so glad I didn’t, because she was a joy in both of her guises. Being a part of an audience anticipating her arrival onstage was really fun – everyone (me included) was cheering and applauding madly, and of course our Queen’s comic timing and delivery was second to none, and though I had a feeling she wasn’t there for her singing, I totally didn’t mind and just let myself be swept along for the fun ride she makes it. I’m perhaps going to be a tad controversial here and say I think I actually preferred the scenes where we had Roy playing Hugo: he was just so warm and sweet and played off Layton incredibly!
Faye Tozer was actually my biggest surprise as Jamie’s teacher, Miss Hedge. I say surprise purely because I know her for her singing and dance skills, not her acting ones and she does a really great job of making a rather unlikeable character nuanced and more interesting than perhaps the script allows for.
With all the negativity going on in the world right now, it’s lovely knowing the West End has embraced a show like Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and continues to. It’s pure feel good fun and sure, its messages about love, self acceptance and tolerance, might be familiar, but I think it doesn’t hurt to ever be reminded.
Love and thanks also to Layton, my Queen Bianca/Roy and Faye for their time and generosity afterwards, too!
For tickets, go to: https://www.everybodystalkingaboutjamie.co.uk/book-tickets