A twenty-first century musical for a twenty-first century audience, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has a sort of chart music feel that I haven’t experienced in a theatre since attending the first public preview performance of the London production of Kinky Boots – and there, too, was a drag queen putting on ridiculously high heels, making somebody already tall even taller: as Jamie New (John McCrea) tries on bright red stilettos for the first time, I could just picture Matt Henry’s Lola from Kinky Boots declaring: “It has to be… RED!”
Despite the show’s title, it isn’t all about young Jamie, a schoolboy who wishes to pursue a career as a performer, and makes plans to turn up to the school prom (an American import to British shores) in a frock. Other characters get solo numbers, notably his mum Margaret (Josie Walker), and Jamie’s best school friend, Pritti Pasha (Lucie Shorthouse). The former’s Act Two number, ‘He’s My Boy’, brought the house down in its poignancy, while the latter’s ‘It Means Beautiful’ demonstrates a palpable alliance between her and Jamie – one suspects they’ll keep in touch despite their contrasting career goals.
Miss Hedge (Tamsin Carroll) tries to invoke the school’s uniform policy with regard to the prom, but Jamie has, as it were, done his homework: it is not expressly forbidden for a boy to wear a dress to an event held on school premises outside usual school hours. Complaints are later received from parents of other students who have deemed Jamie’s plans “disgusting”. The word sounds so much punchier and impactful to my London ears when spoken in a Yorkshire accent.
It’s a show set in Sheffield playing to a (predominantly) Sheffield audience, allowing the dialogue to be peppered with local references – a punchline about the city’s Supertram system preventing Hugo Battersby (Charles Dale) from being where he needed to be on time provoked sustained applause at the performance I attended. Other landmarks and streets with a certain reputation were also appreciated (or scoffed at). The choreography (Kate Prince) is strong and vibrant when it needs to be, and I’m grateful this is a musical that contains both showstoppers and more reflective musical numbers.
The sound levels too, are perfect. There aren’t huge belter songs of the sort one might find in Wicked or Gypsy; I liked not getting the hair dryer treatment and yet still being so moved and impacted by this production. The audience reactions were, I think, indicative that this is beyond being simply a well-constructed show with high production values and a hugely talented cast. There’s audible gasping, there’s collective audible gasping, and then there’s a cacophony of gasping, muttering, tutting and what I call outraged laughter, all because X said something about Y, in a show. But then this show is that engaging.
McCrea in the lead role has a charm and warmth that endears the audience to Jamie. “Homework is so boring, I’d even prefer watching snooker,” he muses, the Crucible being the host venue of the annual World Snooker tournament. This being (at the time of writing, anyway) 2017, not everyone is against this gay student who wants to be a drag queen, and all of his classmates, bar school bully Dean Paxton (a very convincing Luke Baker) are either supportive or otherwise indifferent. Some might be disappointed that the level of triumph over adversity isn’t as high as it could have been. Ultimately though, the plot, although thin, is credible. It’s wonderful, though, to have a gay man’s story that is truly celebratory. Oh, mistakes are made, and there is some humble pie to be eaten – to quote the title of a previous BBC Television series, life isn’t all ‘ha ha, hee hee’.
The scene changes were slick, if fairly low-budget, with a decent amount of pushing and pulling done by both cast members and stagehands. Both hilarious and poignant in equal measure, this glorious production very much deserves a London transfer.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.