Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Actually, everybody’s RAVING about Jamie

One of the biggest new shows of the last few years, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie hits all the right boxes for The Leeds Grand: colourful, energetic, relevant and modern, all whilst keeping a grounded working class core.

This coming-of-age musical, based on a true story, revolves around the eccentric 16 year old Jamie New, born on a Sheffield council estate but dreaming to live on the stage. And not just any stage; the glitzy, glamorous stage of an iconic Drag Queen. With the support of his stoic mother and supportive best friend, Jamie defeats the bullies and the prejudice to embrace his stage persona of Mimi Me.

Layton Williams as Jamie New

The star studded cast of Layton Williams and Shane Richie, as well as the throng of awards, have brought the crowds flooding. A TV movie was also made this year which brought the musical to a wider audience, but this show is pure evidence that some musicals just belong on the stage.

The first thing your eyes notice is the set: it appears simple at first, showing the outline of a dingy, ageing, comprehensive high school. Immediately impressive, though, is the silhouette of the band raised high on stage, as if sitting within a school classroom. It highlights the importance of the music within this show; the energy of a Drag Queen performance. The set, defying its original appearance, keeps surprising you throughout. The grey, bleakness of a council estate life that the set symbolises, is constantly contrasted by loud, electric colour. This shows the energy that Jamie brings to the world and the people around him, whilst allowing the world of the Drag Queen to shine. The use of video projections keeps the audience visually engaged and the perfect synchronisation of the lighting cues with the live band emphasises each strong beat of the music, making the stage feel alive.

Layton Wiliams and Sharan Phull

It’s a rare phenomenon, but this is a show where the whole cast is strong. Layton Williams owns the stage completely, but what makes it special is his ability to believably show his moments of vulnerability and his inspiring rise in confidence and self-acceptance of who he is. His voice is beautifully soft and light, whilst his leg kicks (and the length of them!) are enviable. And I have no idea how he can even walk in those red shoes, let alone dance in them…..

I was nervous about seeing Shane Richie in this show, not only because he was taking on a singing role in a musical but also that he was playing an iconic Drag Queen character, something people can take years to train for. However, he pleasantly surprised me. As Hugo he was excellent; charming and funny and completely plausible. His performance as Loco Chanelle was less impressive but it didn’t detract from the energy of the show, and he still maintained his charisma and humour.

Shane Richie

Amy Ellen Richardson, who performed Jamie’s mum Margaret, was simply superb. Despite always being in the drab background of Jamie’s story, the silent warrior, her story was still powerful and in some ways even more poignant. She captured magnificently her unconditional love for her son and the lengths she would go to in order to protect him. Nothing she did was focused on herself; everything was about supporting her son and his dreams. Even my husband struggled to hold back tears during her solo ‘He’s My Boy’, expressing in a subtle but captivating voice her pain and joy of being a mum. The ends of her notes reached out with an ever-growing rich vibrato that was mesmerising to listen to.

Shobna Gulati Amy Ellen Richardson and Layton Williams

Margaret’s best friend, Ray, brought comedy to the show with almost every word she spoke. The famous Shobna Gulati, who also plays this role in the film, brought her comedy experience and epic timing to the role, which had the audience rolling with laughter. Another particular favourite is the actress who plays Pritti, Sharan Phull. Her voice in both her solos was simply angelic and her quiet self-assurance in who she was contrasted wonderfully to that of her best friend Jamie.

The cast as a whole, though, must be congratulated for creating such a slick and fast-paced production, as they were all involved in the clever and visually engaging transitions. Those playing the Y11 students were particularly impressive at showing the immaturity and humour of teenagers, making all audience members who have ever been to a state school wholeheartedly relate to them. The choreography in the school numbers, provided by Kate Prince, was precise and clever, maximising the space and highlighting the energy of the students.

What’s important about this show is the message that it highlights to the audience. This isn’t just a musical about a boy who wants to become a Drag Queen. It’s about inclusivity and acceptance for all those who might be different from ourselves. It’s about accepting who you are, taking pride in it, and then standing up to others for the right to be acknowledged for the person you are. This show, therefore, appeals to everyone, as we all have something unique about ourselves and we all live in a culture that still has a way to go to be truly accepting.

Layton Williams

If you’ve seen the film version and didn’t love it then please give the stage show a chance. What seemed corny in the film version was funny and endearing on stage. The live performance allowed the audience to have an engagement and connection with the characters which just didn’t happen with the film. Some musicals are simply designed to be performed live, and this is definitely one of them.

It’s rare that this happens, but when my husband asked me what I would improve about the show, for once I was pretty speechless. This is a near perfect production that will appeal to a wide audience: the story is so inclusive that most people of any age, gender or ethnicity will be able to relate in some way to an aspect of it. This is not a show to be missed – I guarantee you’ll be raving about it, too!

At Leeds Grand Theatre until Sunday 7 November. Tickets here.

Photographs courtesy of Leeds Grand Theatre.

Maria Forryan

Maria is a drama teacher who writes on theatre, sometimes enlisting the help of her son to review productions aimed at children. So far, he has also shown a huge interest in live performance!

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