Tag Archives: Shobna Gulati

High Hopes and High Heels

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.

***

Layton Williams (Jamie) and Sharan Phull (Pritti) Photo: Matt Crockett

October in Coventry

APRIL IN PARIS

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 8th October, 2014

 

I have mentioned before my preference for John Godber’s earlier works: plays like Teechers and Bouncers, which combine theatrical brio with pertinent social commentary – so what brings me to Coventry to this touring revival of his 1992 piece, which is characteristic of his later works: plays invariably preoccupied with lower middle-class couples going through marital strife while indulging in pursuits like city breaks, booze cruises or cable car rides?

Frankly, I’ve come for the cast. The play is a two-hander, featuring Shobna Gulati (Corrie, dinnerladies) and one of the clan McGann (Joe, this time).   From the off, this pair engage me and it’s also pleasing to note that Godber (who also directs) has updated or refreshed the script: it works a lot better than a production I saw years ago. It’s funny – in a sit-com kind of way but there is a political undercurrent, there if you look for it. If you don’t, it’s a very funny study of married life.

Al (McGann) and Bet (Gulati) could bicker for England. Gulati shows a nice line in deadpan Northern camp, supplemented by some hilarious physical comedy (her disco-dancing is a sight to behold!) while McGann is spikey and sarky, embittered by his lot in life.  They form quite a double act.

When Bet wins a magazine competition, the couple travel to Paris, arguing all the way. The sniping can turn quite savage and acerbic but what also begins to emerge is how much these two love each other. Bickering is how they communicate and there are moments when they allow each other to be happy that are rather touching. Nestled within the barbed attacks is a lot of truth. Al’s pride is injured: he can’t afford to treat his wife to foreign holidays and so will not let himself enjoy the freebie trip because he feels he hasn’t ‘earned’ it. Godber nails this working-class attitude perfectly: you only deserve what you have earned – this contrasts nicely with Al’s tightness about spending money on what he regards as fripperies: magazines and scarves.

There is a complexity to the characters and their relationship that enriches the piece beyond its sit-com set-up, a complexity brought to life by an excellent brace of actors. There is also commentary on the state of the nation, with its boarded-up high streets and Godber hints that staying in the European Union is to the nation’s benefit. It’s subtly done; the emphasis is on the central relationship. There is plenty to get me laughing out loud.

Pip Leckenby’s set symbolises the smallness of Al and Bet’s world, opening out when they get to Paris. Travel broadens their outlook and instils them with a greater appreciation for what they have at home.

And now I find myself looking forward to any future refreshed versions of Godber’s stuff. With this production, he has won me round.

april