With the Olivier Awards currently airing from London, the show on everybody’s lips is none other than the breakout success Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Having seen it not long ago, it’s not hard to see why.
This new musical is based on the real life story of Jamie Campbell who grew up in a small mining village in County Durham. From a young age, Jamie knew he was different from everyone else and that he liked to dress in women’s clothes. Jump forward to August 2011 and the BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 airs telling the story of Jamie Campbell and his ambition to become a drag queen. Where was his first major leap? Attending his school prom in a dress when he and his classmates graduated in 2011. The musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie covers this feel-good story.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (or ETAJ for short) holds its appeal in its heart warming story of overcoming adversity and being true to yourself and who you want to be. Like Kinky Boots, this show focuses on a strong message of equality and acceptance, but most of all, this is a story about a mother’s bond with her son.
With only a concept album to listen to until the original cast recording is released, those who have not seen ETAJ can listen to the original composer of the songs, Dan Gillespie Sells and some accompanying artists, sing the songs of the show. The concept album doesn’t quite capture the true essence and flavour of the musical numbers but it gives you a rough idea. With book and lyrics by Tom Macrae, the songs all weave seamlessly into the story and allow the actors to chew on lyrics that really flesh out who these people are.
Anna Fleischle’s set design is inventive and never overcrowds the stage, allowing for seamless scene changes and an extremely interesting use of the classroom desks to move, twist and transform to become different platforms or scenes in general.
In the lead role of Jamie New is John McCrea and boy does he lead the show. McCrea plays Jamie to be camp but not a stereotype, funny without being “too much” and emotional without being too dramatic. McCrea brings an honesty to the role of Jamie and flaunts it in all of Jamie’s musical numbers. He is a perfect fit for the show and has modeled what is sure to be an outline for other actors to step into once he departs.
Alongside McCrea is Jamie’s mother, Margaret New, played by Josie Walker. Walker is stunning as Mrs. New as she plays a mother who backs her son 110% in everything he does but never fully realises the bubble she is encompassing him in when trying to protect Jamie from his father – a homophobic, abusive bully. Walker makes herself relatable in so many ways and her main song “He’s My Boy” had the audience in tears.
Playing opposite Jamie and Margaret are a variety of characters. Ranging from Jamie’s best friend Pritti Pasha (Lucie Shorthouse) to Maragaret’s best friend and masculine role model to Jamie, Ray (Mina Anwar) to another role model for Jamie in the form of fading drag queen Loco Chanelle aka. Hugo Battersby (Phil Nichol). Every single character is fleshed out and played with honesty and integrity. Although, sometimes I found Anwar’s accent difficult to understand, losing some of the more humorous lines along the way, and Nichol’s fading drag queen character felt a bit lost sometimes and needed further clarity in his purpose. The three characters who were closest to Jamie all added colour and character to the show and helped make the story feel grounded and real.
In the rest of the cast were a mix of ethnicities and religions and personalities, all of whom helped to reflect the diverse world we live in today and the society in which young adults find themselves developing in. These characters needed to be shown to highlight overcoming diversity, breaking away from “tradition” and old-school ways of thinking and showed an honest reason as to why Jamie’s story is continuously being talked about.
Now in terms of ETAJ’s longevity? I feel the musical is perfect for the here and now. It’s relevant and it’s true to the world we are in. I believe with a bit more work shopping in some of the characters, numbers and songs, that Everybody’s Talking About Jamie could become a well-known West End show that stays running in London for years to come.
Stin’s Final Thought: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie v.s. Kinky Boots. Now there’s a drag show that I think could work!
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is now playing at the Apollo Theatre in London’s West End. Tickets and information in the link below.