Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is at The Festival Theatre this week (Tue 03 to Sat 07 March) brings to the stage the real life story of Jamie Campbell, who from a very young age knew that his life’s path was going to be very different from many people around him. That path included not only always being comfortable with his own sexuality, but wanting to wear a dress to his end of school prom night and also become a performer, but not just any performer, a drag-queen.
There are many positives about this work of musical theatre, and always a few (well for me anyhow) negatives, but perhaps the most important thing as a theatrical work is that this is a new work of theatre with new music and songs written for it, and British musical theatre desperately needs complete works of original material, and this alone needs to be supported. It is therefore appropriate that here, Jamie is called Jamie New, and that name also reflects the “new” Jamie that emerges post school prom night.
The part of Jamie is performed brilliantly by Layton Williams, and there are times that his performance takes me back to the days of disco and a performer like Sylvester. Layton Williams not only has the voice and the moves here, but the dramatic skills to give Jamie many emotional layers.
Also putting in a very solid performance here is Shane Richie as drag clothing store owner and ex diva Hugo/Loco Chanelle. There are times though when this does feel a little bit like the Shane Richie show. One downside of this story though is that there is simply not enough time to open up the story of just who Hugo/Loco Chanelle is, and we are only given brief tantalising clues.
This is a musical theatre show though, and one with a feel-good factor to it, and the musical performance numbers plus a very good domestic life of Jamie story line have obviously hit a place in many people’s hearts as this packed theatre audience were obviously enjoying every minute of this story. There are times, however, when this sugar coating got to be a little bit over the top, particularly at the ending. There are hints too at the darkness at times in Jamie’s life that he has had to face over the years and obvious prejudice and abuse, but these are lightly touched upon and perhaps a more dramatic adaptation of his story would have given us a more balanced picture (there is an upcoming film planned). For Jamie, his drag-queen alter ego is his protective shield from the world, and this I find interesting as it takes us back to the original meaning of the word glamour as an enchantment. Here, make-up and clothes are true glamour.
Jamie is fortunate in his life in having two very supportive people – his mother’s long time friend Ray (Shobna Gulati) and of course his mother, Margaret New (Amy Ellen Richardson), and together Shobna and Amy Ellen work so well together and with Jamie (Layton Williams) on stage. This is supposed to be Jamie’s story, but I have to admit that I actually found it to be his mother’s story and here Dan Gillespie Sells (Music), Tom Macrae (book and lyrics) and Jonathan Butterell (original director and co-writer) have given Margaret New not only many of the best scenes in this show, but the best song –“He’s My Boy”.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is always going to be treading a fine line between confronting prejudice and, even if unintentionally, reinforcing a stereotype that for me belongs to a dark day in the distant past. Has the show succeeded, well, that as always has to be in the hearts of the viewer, and all too sadly now, what is really in people’s minds and hearts is only just beneath a thin layer of acceptance. We still have a very long way to go as a society in accepting everyone as simply people without any name tags to identify them from the conservative masses.
Review by Tom King (c) 2020