Everybody’s Talking About Jamie continues at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield until 25 February.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Michael Ball makes a curious entry into the story of the development of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. In a telephone conversation with director Jonathan Butterell he suggested a meeting with composer Dan Gillespie Sells, from The Feeling, and screenwriter Tom MacRae who “really need somebody to take…a listen to their stuff”.
Coincidentally, Butterell had recently seen the BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 which told the story of Durham schoolboy Jamie Campbell and his struggles to come to terms with his preference for dresses over rugby boots. The result is this highly effective new show at the resourceful Sheffield Crucible.
Opening in a classroom, Year 11 assembles and begins one of a number of mesmerisingly intricate routines choreographed by Kate Prince. Astonishingly, members of the ensemble look like they actually are 16 years old.
Jamie asserts that he is intending to grace the school prom in a dress. Cue outrage from staff and an unspecified objection from a parent: “it’s disgusting.” The plot then revolves around Jamie’s entry into the world of drag and the rock-like support of his mother, Margaret.
Despite the sequins and glitter, the show could easily be seen as the story of dowdy Margaret. Played by Josie Walker, with a stunning voice that projects power and subtlety, she sings a showstopper of a number in ‘He’s My Boy’.
Jamie himself (John McCrea) successfully engages, then alienates, then wins back the audience as he recoils from his teacher’s (Tamsin Carroll) recommended career of fork lift truck driver.
Allowing so much self-absorption in the lead character is a dangerous strategy, but one that we recognise and forgive as a keynote of adolescence.
The dependable Charles Dale, playing the manager of dress shop Victor’s Secret as well as drag queen Loco Chanel, substitutes for Jamie’s absent father. Another recognisable TV face is Mina Anwar as Lee, the supportive family friend.
However, it is Jamie’s friend Pritti Pasha, played by Lucie Shorthouse, who fully confirms that every member of the cast can land their songs with style.
It is good to see the band for once. So often in the Crucible Theatre the musicians are out of sight beneath the stage. Musical director Tom Brady leads from the keyboards, relishing the various styles – rock, ballad, tango and more – demanded by the score. While McRae’s words are witty, it is the drive and energy of Sells’ music that arrest the ear with catchy tunes like ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’ and ‘Work of Art’.
The boxy, though flexible set and grey tones (designer Anna Fleischle) contrast vividly with the explosions of colour in the scenes where Jamie is in drag (costume design also by Fleischle). Joshua Carr’s lighting complements these moments, including the charming use of the glitter ball during a reflective ballad.
Although there is no indication of a tour to follow, surely such a carefully crafted and affecting piece deserves a wider audience.
Readers may also be interested in:
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Five Questions with actor Charles Dale – Interview
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – news of concept album – News