layton as Jamie

Layton Williams ponders The Wall in my head on his 16th birthday. Pictures: Matt Crockett

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


Meanwhile, as I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted, 16 March last year I seem to remember, Everybody’s talking about Jamie is a musical about identity, about having the courage to be who you are.

It is also a musical seared into the minds of many in these parts as a symbol of the day the pandemic moved from a news item into real life. In March last year we arrived for Press night to find the theatre closed, and theatres throughout the land, apart from a few isolated flickers, were to remain dark for the next 18 months.

Attending the Press night, again, completed the circle, giving hope that, perhaps, normality, if we are careful, is almost within reach – although it might be a tad longer to wait considering how few people were following the Alex’s request to join the staff and wear face coverings inside the theatre.

So,18 months on and Jamie’s script has evolved with references to masks, the pandemic and even Meghan but the story is still the same, a coming-of-age tale of a boy who wants to wear a dress, in his own words, a boy who sometimes wants to be a girl.

We join him as his school days are ending with a last hurrah of a final prom to come with the careers teacher, Miss Hedge, (Lara Denning), having a last attempt to convince the class to think about jobs beyond footballer, film star and being a celebrity.

The main career ambition appears to be “Dunno, Miss” apart from Pritta Pasha, a lovely performance from Sharan Phull, who actually wants to be educated and become a doctor, and Jamie. Jamie is, on the face of it, another dunno, or when pushed, wants to be a performer, but in secret, his heart is set on being a drag queen.

Now, just a wild guess here, but I suspect drag queen comes somewhere below wheeling daylight into dark rooms, winding treacle on bobbins and coronation flag seller on the school’s list of possible careers.

Pritti and jamie

Outsiders and the best of friends, the studious and academic Pritti, played by Sharan Phull and the gay, wannabe drag queen Jamie.

Bury born Layton Williams, has an impressive CV, starting with the lead role in Billy Elliot The Musical when he was 12 back in 2007, and he gives a more than assured performance as the Gay, with a capital G, Jamie. The boy can dance, he has a pleasant pop voice and manages to balance all sides of Jamie quite beautifully from his comfortable sense of fun with his mum and Ray, to his being himself with his best friend Pritti, He can stand up for himself against the school homophobic bully Dean (nicely obnoxious from George Sampson) to the pathos at the downs and difficulties in his somewhat unconventional life. It’s a wonderful star performance.

His mother Margaret is beautifully played, in another of the productions star performances, by Amy Ellen Richardson, and what a voice! She turns her power ballad, He’s My Boy, into a real showstopper – one of the highlights of the whole production.

She stands up for her boy, and like any good parent, accepts him for what he is, protecting him in any way she can, even to the extent of trying to keep Jamie’s father in his life even though dad (Cameron Johnson) had walked out years ago and disowned his gay son as “disgusting”.

Jamie and Margaret

Jamie and the other woman in his life, sticking with him through thick and thin, his mother, Margaret, played by Amy Ellen Richardson

Jamie’s realisation that the estranged father he thought was still supporting him, sending him presents, was really his mum lying to him, albeit with the best of intentions, was a devastating blow. At 16 he discovered his real father had rejected him long ago, and the father he thought he had was just make believe. That hurt.

Ray, mum’s friend, is the down to earth sort, happy to call a spade not just a spade but an effin spade, with a novel turn of phrase. Just a warning, by the way, the language in Jamie is, should we say, somewhat industrial for those who prefer their theatre to be expletive free.

But back to Ray; she has a penchant for buying cheap knock off confectionary, such as Mers bars, and seems to have a hobby of collecting men, even managing to pull in a gay club drag night during a pandemic. She is rough and ready and quite a character in the hands of Shobna Gulati, but she is always there for Margaret and Jamie and when he is struggling to come to terms with being rejected by his father, she tells him he always has her. And you suspect she is a match for any bloke.

Oldham born Gulati, by the way, plays the same role in the film of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, filmed in Sheffield two years ago, which premieres on Amazon Prime this Friday, 17 September.

Jamie’s real mentor in all this though, is Hugo, who runs Victor’s Secret, the local neighbourhood drag queen supply shop. Hugo, now retired, was once Loco Chanelle, the most famous drag queen of them all, or at least in that corner of Sheffield.

Hugo, played wonderfully by Shane Ritchie with his big number the dramatic The Legend of Loco Chanelle (and the blood red dress) complete with a murder, very Chicago style.

shane richie

Jamie finds his mentor in Hugo, played by Shane Richie, ready to return to the stage as the famed Loco Chanelle to support his protégé

He convinces Jamie to follow his dream, and when a despondent Jamie says he doesn’t want to be just a figure of fun, Hugo declares: “A boy in a dress is something to be laughed at, a drag queen is something to be feared.”.

He fixes up for Jamie to appear at Legs Eleven where we meet the resident drag queens, who would be feared by anyone, but are still good fun with Sandra Bollock (Garry Lee), Laika Virgin (JP McCue) and Tray Sophisticay, as ladylike as a complete rugby front row and a misnomer if ever there was one, (Rhys Taylor).

Jamie, or Mimi Me, appears with half his class in the audience, rounded up by Dean to heckle, but it doesn’t quite go to plan – Jamie emerges as a star shining towards the finale, the prom, where Jamie is banned by the school or at least Miss Hedge – who seems to be running the entire school alone . . . perhaps the rest of the staff are in isolation – so he has a dilemma. Does he take the bull by the horns and go as a drag queen for a battle with authority? Or . . . well as we said at the beginning, this is a musical about identity, being confident, and sometimes brave enough to be who you are. So why not just go as Jamie.

And what that means is . . . why not go and buy a ticket to find out.

It’s a simple, heart-warming story. Dean might not like it, but most of Jamie’s classmates were happy to accept what he was (Out of the darkness – A place where we belong). The songs move things along with a mix of sad or thoughtful ballads and up tempo numbers driven by a cracking seven piece band, under MD Sam Coates, up on a shelf high up behind a screen at the back of the stage.

The full stage screen providing video projection (Luke Halls) of Sheffield as a backdrop to the simple but effective set (Anna Fleischle) aided by some clever lighting (Lucy Carter) and some lively choreography (Kate Prince) all directed by Matt Ryan.


Shobna Gupta as Margaret and Jamie's rock, the ever supportive Ray

There some notable numbers such as Pritti’s It means Beautiful and the sad ballad If I met myself again from Margaret – which had a lovely pas de deux from two of the pupils in a poignant moment, Jamie’s fear of being seen as what he wants to be with The Wall in my head and his heartfelt duet with mum Margaret,  My Man, Your Boy

Sound on opening night was variable, some dialogue was hard to pick up, particularly in the classroom scenes, but sound on opening nights of touring productions, especially if unfamiliar in-house PA is used, is always a challenge, with sound engineers, no matter how brilliantly they have set up in an empty theatre at the get in, faced with the nuisance of a full audience in a new theatre absorbing, reflecting and deflecting sound and throwing all those carefully set levels into disarray.

The show is based upon the real life story of the openly gay schoolboy Jamie Campbell in County Durham who decided he was going to go to his school prom in 2011 in a dress. It resulted in the documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 that same year on BBC 3,

From there two aspiring musical theatre writers Dan Gillespie-Sells and Tom MacRae and original director and co-writer Jonathan Butterell persuaded Daniel Evens, then Artistic Director of Sheffield Crucible to take a risk – and now, well, everybody’s talking about it.

It’s a feelgood night out which you can happily talk about until 18-09-21.

Roger Clarke


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