Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Book and lyrics by Tom MacRae; music by Dan Gillespie Sells
Nica Burns, Ian Osborne, TC Beech Ltd and Sheffield Theatres
Leeds Grand Theatre

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The cast Credit: Matt Crockett
Layton Williams (Jamie) and Shane Richie (Hugo) Credit: Matt Crockett
Layton Williams (Jamie) and Amy Ellen Richardson (Margaret) Credit: Matt Crockett

The title of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie could hardly be more apt. Since its Sheffield debut in 2017, this plucky and uplifting show has stormed the West End, won prizes galore and even received the coveted accolade of a film remake (available on Amazon Prime). Like Matilda and Six, Jamie suggests that the British musical—so often dwarfed by its American counterpart—is in rude health.

Inspired by a 2011 documentary about a schoolboy in County Durham, Jamie depicts the journey of a gay sixteen-year-old in Sheffield (Layton Williams) who longs to be a drag queen. Refreshingly, his sexuality is not the main issue—he is accepted by his loving mother, Margaret (Amy Ellen Richardson), and most of his classmates don’t seem particularly bothered—but rather his anxiety about fully embracing his feminine side.

With the help of seasoned drag artist Hugo (Shane Richie), who resurrects his flamboyant alter ego (Loco Chanelle) on our hero’s behalf, Jamie takes his first faltering steps into the world of drag. Emboldened by his success, he resolves to carry out his plan of attending the school prom in a dress. But will this prove a step too far for his reactionary teacher Miss Hedge (Lara Denning)?

There is much to enjoy in this warm-hearted show, and it is wonderful to see a production about a gay teenager being so warmly embraced by the British public. Matt Ryan’s nicely paced direction ensures that Jamie doesn’t outstay its welcome, and there is some memorable choreography from Kate Prince, particularly during the classroom scenes where the Year 11 students’ dynamic movements put me in mind of Matilda’s classmates—but at the end of their school career.

The songs, written by former Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae, oscillate between high energy (the show’s opening number “And You Don’t Even Know It” is a particular highlight) and the heartfelt. Whilst not as catchy as some other musicals, the songs in Jamie are still well constructed and pleasing to the ear.

Overall, the performances are strong. Layton Williams has a terrific voice and manages to convey Jamie’s insecurities very effectively. That being said, his undeniable charisma means that the character’s future as a drag performer never really feels in doubt.

Amy Ellen Richardson gives a lovely, heartrending performance as Jamie’s devoted mum, and she is beautifully complemented by Shobna Gulati as Ray—her best friend and confidante—whose impeccable comic delivery punctures the show’s occasional lapses into earnestness.

Shane Richie is highly engaging, both in and out of make-up, and his trio of drag sisters—Garry Lee, J P McCue and Rhys Taylor—are raucously funny in their small roles. Finally, I would like to sing the praises of Sharan Phull, who provides excellent support as Jamie’s best friend, Pritti.

I wanted to love Jamie, but unfortunately I couldn’t engage with it as deeply as I hoped. The primary reason for this is the show’s lack of dramatic stakes. Although our hero faces obstacles in the form of a homophobic father (Cameron Johnson), a school bully (George Sampson) and a conservative teacher, none of these characters were particularly fleshed out, meaning that Jamie’s victory never seemed endangered.

To end on a more positive note, I should acknowledge the rapturous reception the show received on the night I attended. Clearly Jamie has touched the hearts of theatregoers all over the country, and—despite some misgivings—I can appreciate why.

Reviewer: James Ballands