Layton Williams (Jamie New) and Sharan Phull (Pritti) in the Everybody’s Talking About Jamie Tour. Photo credit Matt Crockett
Venue: The Alexandra, Birmingham
Performance Date: 14 September 2021
Reviewer: Sophie Mills
Star Rating: ★★★★
Jamie Campbell hit headlines in 2011 as a 16-year-old drag queen, banned from his prom for wearing a dress. Now his story is in the heart of many theatre fans under the pseudonym Jamie New in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Touring the UK, this production of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has hit The Alexandra in Birmingham to light the city centre on fire.
Jamie (Layton Williams) wants one thing in life – to be a drag queen. But life for a teenager to a single mum (Amy Ellen Richardson) in Sheffield isn’t that easy, and perhaps Jamie would be better off being the forklift driver his psychometric test threw back at him. But after his mum buys him the pair of heels, he’s been coveting for his sixteenth birthday, Jamie braves a trip to a drag shop to find the perfect prom dress to wear at his end-of-year celebrations. Here, Jamie meets Victor (Shane Richie), a former drag queen willing to take Jamie under his wing and get him on stage at his first drag event. Unfortunately for Jamie, school bullies – especially Dean (George Sampson) – aren’t letting him get away with being different without a fight.
Layton Williams’ Jamie is sassy and fun, but also overtly believable. His rendition of The Wall In My Head has soul, and the man has moves – even in six-inch heels! His line delivery when batting down the bully is identical to how we all hear sass in our heads, although not everybody can achieve it in real life without stuttering over our words.
But the star of the show is Amy Ellen Richardson as mum, Margaret. He’s My Boy is gut-wrenching, and parent or otherwise, every member of the audience connects with this number. Her relationship with best friend Ray (Shobna Gulati), and their unconventional way of raising Jamie together is at times more uplifting than the show’s key message.
Shane Richie is fun as Victor/Loco Chanel but in general, not on par with his contemporaries. His vocals are a little lacklustre compared to the vocals in the songs that bookend his own. That said, the character is the father that Jamie deserves, so a couple of bum notes can be forgiven. George Sampson as bully Dean Paxton is believable, but having him as a named star on the billing is overegging his character’s role in the story.
The jokes come thick and fast, with genius delivery from the entire cast. Whilst Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is indeed a show with a core cast, the ensemble is just as talented. Their portrayal of teenagers living in the modern era is spot on, and their recreation of Dannielle Lecointe’s choreography is masterful. An additional notable performance has to be Sharan Phul as best friend Pritti Pasha, and her growth as a character throughout the show, and killer vocals to boot.
Dan Gillespie Sell’s score can at times feel a touch hit-and-miss, with the lyrics of almost all the of the songs feeling a tad repetitive to force their way into being an earworm. The title song (which doesn’t feature the title character at all) is by far the number that deserves the place of being put on repeat in the car.
After 18 months of misery and several false starts caused by the pandemic, this is a show that theatregoers deserve. Cleverly rewritten to reflect school life in the covid-era compared to previous iterations of the script, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a heart-warming story about found family and owning who you are, neatly rounded off with a redemption arc – a real ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. But the key take-home is ‘be you, be real, be fabulous’.
Runs until: 18 September 2021