EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE
The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 14th September, 2021
Based on a true story, this musical by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom Macrae centres on 16-year-old Jamie New, on the cusp of leaving school and becoming who he wants to be (which is not a forklift driver, as the careers service suggests). Jamie wants to be a drag queen, a noble profession indeed, but he faces resistance from—well, he doesn’t face all that much resistance to be honest. His mum (Amy Ellen Richardson) couldn’t be more supportive (she buys him his first pair of high heels), nor could his best friend Pritti, and he soon finds an ally and mentor in Hugo the proprietor of the local drag shop (every town has one, right?). There is some conflict when Jamie learns the birthday cards he’s been getting for years haven’t really come from his estranged dad, but Jamie seems more than capable of standing up for himself. School bully George Sampson can barely get a word out, in the full glare of Jamie’s devastating wit. Jamie plans to wear a dress to the prom (We didn’t have proms, we had school discos) and to prepare for this he performs his first drag show at the local drag club. Which seems arse-backwards to me – surely the show requires more preparation, rehearsal, and guts to do. Anyway…
There is much to like about this show, with its poptastic score, its energetic staging, funny script and talented cast, but for me there’s something not quite there. Moments of excellence arise: Jamie’s mum belting out her big number about her boy; Shane Richie as the former drag queen regaining his glamour; an unrecognisable Shobna Gulati as Ray, a high-camp northern woman (almost a drag character in itself); a trio of drag queens bitching in the dressing room…For me, the best-written character is Pritti, in a show-stealing performance by Sharan Phull.
In the title role, Layton Williams gives a star turn, taking to the high heels like a fish to water. It’s a pity we don’t get to see Jamie do his drag act, but this is very much Jamie’s origin story. He is still developing his drag superpowers.
And yet, I find the story lacks the punch of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Here, the issues aren’t really issues, and acceptance seems easy to come by. It’s a sanitised, almost facile version of growing-up gay. Jamie has one supportive parent; many LGBTQ+ kids don’t have that, but what does come across is institutionalised homophobia, as represented by teacher Miss Hodge (Lara Denning), but even that is swiftly overcome and papered over with compliments about shoes.
Jamie is a snack, sweet and enjoyable while it lasts, but the subject matter could have made a more substantial and satisfying meal.