Everybody's Talking About Jamie

Dan Gillepsie Sells and Tom MacRea

Sheffield Theatres

The Crucible

From 08 February 2017 to 25 February 2017

Review by Velda Harris

The inspiration for Jamie came from a BBC documentary called Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. The two writers, Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae, have admittedly "not had very much experience in theatre" since their backgrounds are respectively in pop music and TV and film.

Consequently what has emerged is an innovative form of theatre which director Jonathan Butterell describes as a "pop show". Complexity in dealing with issues of adolescent identity and inclusivity gives way to entertainment and the expectation that the songs will stand alone in a broader musical context.

The writing is peopled with familiar stereotypes: the accepting mother; the rejecting father; the homophobic and racist school bully; the supportive Muslim girlfriend. But Tom MacRae brings a personal perspective based on his own school experience when he recalls thinking, "I don’t have to deal with you any more because very soon, you are all going to be out of my life". This realisation is expressed in the play by both Jamie and the high achieving Pritti.

Reservations aside, there is much to admire and enjoy in this lively, entertaining production. Butterell’s direction is immaculate with exciting use of the stage, tremendous pace and the ability to draw out convincing, persuasive performances from the large cast.

Designer Anna Fleische has created an intriguing set which opens and closes to establish a range of acting areas and makes particularly exciting use of the rows of school desks which are arranged in a variety of different configurations to provide areas for dancing as well as the school scenes. The scene changes are managed with maximum efficiency by the cohort of school pupils.

Fleische excels herself in the costumes for the drag artists either when they’re partially clothed or in full performance rig. Jamie’s gradual transformation in the night club scene is teasingly presented until the final apotheosis achieved with a crowning blonde wig.

The small band under musical director Tom Brady provides a full-toned accompaniment to the singing and dancing. Percussion and brass add exciting resonance to the performance.

Notable among a number of well-sung numbers are Josie Walker’s two solos as Margaret, "If I Met Myself Again" and "He’s My Boy", which is strong and passionately delivered. "Everybody’s Talking About Jamie", the act two opener performed by the ensemble of school pupils, is a showstopper.

Kate Prince’s choreography is exciting and inventive throughout. The ensemble singing and dancing is dynamic and energetic and "The Legend of Loco Chanel" headed by Charles Dale as Hugo Battersby is a charming set piece which displays the talents of the Legs Eleven Girls and draws together the visual, choreographic and musical aspects of the production.

As the eponymous Jamie, John MacCrea’s sophisticated performance presents a Jamie who seems too comfortable with himself in the early stages of the play (16 is a time of general uncertainty and turmoil). Granted that this is not a play about coming out—Jamie is described as "openly and comfortably gay" at the beginning of the action—it is nevertheless a play about a journey and the obstacles he has to overcome to present himself and be accepted as a boy in a dress.

The other journey, optimistic and not entirely convincing, is the journey made by Jamie’s peer group on the way to acceptance.