jamie friend

Ivano Turco as Jamie with Talia Palamathanan as Pritti. Pictures: Matt Crockett   

Everybody's talking about Jamie

Wolverhampton Grand


The message is simple and universal, it’s your life so live it your way, be true to yourself.

If you are a boy and want to go to the school prom in a dress . . . will the world really stop turning if you do? Will the sun fail to appear tomorrow? Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?

Perhaps not, but for Jamie it mattered – and it mattered for that part of us that says our differences are to be celebrated and not condemned.

And it mattered to Finton Flynn, who on Press night stepped up from cast members at the other end of the programme to the lead role of Jamie.

I must admit to a guilty pleasure of watching understudies in lead roles. It is their chance to shine and theygrad it with both hands and give it their all and Finton did not disappoint.

He was a star in the making, funny, witty, mincing through the evening, after a wobbly start on 6in heels, showing flashes of anger, of frustration and emotion. It was a memorable performance giving us a multi-faceted Jamie with a fine pop voice to boot.

There were times when he was a self-centred, spoiled and unpleasant brat – and his best friend Pritti Pasha told him so in no uncertain terms. It’s what friends do. It is a lovely performance from Talia Palamathanan as the quiet, studious Pritti who wants to be a doctor – a desire to be educated making her, like Jamie, an outsider among their less than academic (less approaching zero) and less tolerant, in some cases, classmates. She also sports a fine voice.

Jamie’s friendship with Pritti was a rock to cling to in school but outside there were moments when his world caved in on him, like when he had been to see his estranged father, played with all the charm of a chipped house brick by Akshay St Clair. Dad had wanted a son and . . . let’s just say Jamie failed the audition.

The realisation of a lifetime’s rejection saw Jamie lash out at everything and everyone around him, especially his single mother, Margaret, who had supported and protected him, even buying him cards and presents . . . from dad . . . to make him believe his father cared. It is an excellent performance from Rebecca McKinnis.

Showstoppers are the icing on the cake for musicals and mum has two with the bittersweet If I met Myself Again about her lost love in Act 1 and the power ballad He’s my boy about a parent's love for their child, come what may, after the break, both beautifully sung and full of emotion.


Rebecca McKinnis as mum and Shobna Gulati as Ray with Ivano Turco as Jamie

Adding a fair amount of humour we have Mum's best friend Ray, played by Shobna Gulati, from my home town of Oldham, incidentally, who is always a delight. She has impeccable timing for comedy and a glorious manner that fills the stage with fun whenever she appears.

We open with a careers lesson where apart from Pritti’s desire to be a doctor, the rest of the class of would be super models, film stars and professiona footballers, are dunno miss, apart from Jamie who is a don’t know in public but drag queen in his head.

The dream becomes a reality when he walks through the door of Victor’s Secret, a sort of drag boutique, run by Hugo who used to be drag queen Loco Chanelle, and who in turn is John Partridge playing the drag star turned shopkeeper.

Hugo becomes mentor, guide and protector as Jamie progresses from school uniform to sequins at the Legs 11 club drag night as Mimi Me.

It’s not a school prom though and teacher Miss Hedge, played by Giovanna Fletcher, is determined no boy will turn up in drag at her school which is building us up to the dramatic finale. You get the feeling teaching was not Miss Hedge’s first career choice and her personal life is on hold and answerphone . . . so the status quo is something to hold on to, for now at least.

So, enter Jamie into the arena, or at least the school car park. It is a poignant moment, seeing the dramatic distinction between a drag persona bestriding a world of glitter, glamour and Max Factor and merely a boy in a dress.

The story of a boy in a frock exposes one prejudice, but it touches on others which our schoolchildren face each day. Pritti is mocked for being clever, her religion is never really understood, casual sexual suggestion is rife, and then there is the bullying, led by classmate Dean in a fine performance from Jordan Ricketts who sneers and mocks with aplomb.

This home grown musical has its origins in the real life story of Jamie Campbell, a Bishop Auckland teenager who came out as gay at 14 and went to his post GCSE school prom in a dress, chronicled in a 2011 BBC documentary. Jamie achieved his ambition, becoming drag queen Fifi la True.

The result is a feelgood musical with Jamie triumphing over prejudice and adversity to achieve his dream. As for age guidance . . . let’s just say there is enough bad language and gratuitous crudity to move it up into teen territory, and even deter some families, which is perhaps a pity. The story about overcoming prejudice, standing up to bullies, rewriting boundaries, daring to be different and be yourself is powerful enough to stand on its own two, stiletto heeled feet.

Anna Fleischle’s set is a clever affair, school desks that fit together into illuminated walkways, a wall that folds out into a kitchen, desks, benches, make up stations, all carried on and off with no break in the action with a wall like a block of flats up stage to act as a screen for video projections (Luke Halls) with the excellent seven piece band under Musical Director Danny Belton in their own penthouse flat.

Her design work will be seen at the Grand again next month with the arrival of the excellent 2:22: A Ghost Story. (20-24 Feb)

Lucy Carter’s lighting does its job, highlighting dramatic moments while Paul Groothus gives us a well balanced sound.

Directed by Matt Ryan the Grand will be talking about Jamie to 27-01-24.

Roger Clarke


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