The Theatre Talk Column:
If you have a passion for theatre, whether that be theatre reviews, problems within the theatre industry, the latest information about theatre stars or a discussion on which theatres are the best venues, then this is the column for you. Be sure to join Abbie Harrision for a chat about all things theatre related.
‘Everybody’s talking about Jamie’ has graced the West End since November 2017, and with its departure later in August this year, don’t let it pass you by. After originally watching the show with a friend, who’s just as obsessed with musicals as me, I decided to drag my not-so-musical-obsessed boyfriend along, and trust me, if he enjoyed it – you will too.
So what exactly sets ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ apart from other West End productions? The show follows 16-year-old Jamie New and his struggle in becoming a drag queen in Sheffield. He not only struggles with issues of self-identity but, is also thrown by elements of conflict with his peers, parents and his teacher. The audience has the pleasure of witnessing Jamie’s progression from a closeted, uncertain boy into a blooming queen with enough humility and confidence to win over almost everyone he comes into contact with. There are strong cast performances from Jamie’s mum and her best friend, whose endearing friendship brings a constant warmth to the show. Similarly, the 4 drag queens that support him at the local nightclub, including the infamous Loco Chanel, engulf his story with humour, humility and embody the change that Jamie is going through. Jamie’s journey cultivates at his school prom; despite a struggle, Jamie is finally accepted. The moment is like a weight lifting off your chest, as Jamie seems to have finally gained the acceptance that he craved throughout his journey.
This amazing story of acceptance and transformation is based on a very real drag queen from Sheffield. Jamie Campbell was a drag queen at 16, who bravely went to his prom in a dress and came out as Fifi la True. Jamie New stays very true to Jamie Campbell, especially in the close relationship with his mum. Jamie New exhibits real vulnerability and captures the issues that Jamie Campbell faced, at such a young age, when battling with his transformation. Campbell was the focus of a BBC Three documentary, which focussed on his story, and particularly the moment in which he turned up as Fifi to his prom. The weight of the real Jamie behind the performance, transforms the musical beyond just a show in which the audience is entertained. It felt authentic. It felt real.
I’m not going to lie – what originally drew me towards watching the show was the promise of seeing Layton Williams, whom I adored as Steven in Bad Education. So I was a tad disappointed to hear that he had departed the west end version of ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’, but boy was I in for a treat. Noah Thomas, who replayed Williams was absolutely incredible. He was a triple threat if I’ve ever seen one. I couldn’t mention the cast without talking about the incredible Bianca Del Rio, who starred as Loco Chanel. Bianca was the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6, and she was just as funny and enchanting as Loco Chanel as she was through Drag Race. In true Bianca style, the girl does not miss a beat. She has truly brought the character of Loco Chanel into her own. I didn’t see a single person in the audience with a straight face. That said, every single actor displayed effortless charm as their characters and will truly bring you into their realities. I commend the cast, and the production team, for their true craftsmanship in creating this production, which didn’t stop at the acting. In addition to the Apollo Theatre being so beautiful, the stage brought so many modern elements, my favourite being that you could even see the band above the stage. I felt like I was engulfed into Jamie’s school or home, truly captivating. The lighting framed the stage, from floor to ceiling, it totally drew me in. Is there anything this show can’t do?
Noah Thomas and Roy Haylock (Bianca Del Rio) as Jamie New and Loco Chanel
And of course, I couldn’t talk about a musical without talking about the music itself! Songwriter Dan Gillespie Sells has created a masterpiece from start to finish. I dare you to watch this show and try not to have the musical number ‘and you don’t even know it’ stuck in your head for weeks. ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is the perfect mash up of punchy pop tunes, alongside heartfelt and moving numbers, which I guarantee pierced through every single person in the audience. Even if you don’t get around to seeing ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’, I urge you to at least listen to the soundtrack online; it is magical.
The show also shines in its diversity. It’s not often that a cast is so varied as the one that I saw. The true life Jamie Campbell was white, which the original Jamie New was. However, moving forward, both Layton Williams and Noah Thomas are mixed race. The cast transcends ideas of race and instead focuses on personality types – which is exactly how it should be. The cast seems to have a good level of representation of people from all backgrounds. In regard to ethnicity, religion, gender, representation of family life, and, of course, the LGBTQ community, Jamie seemed to cover it all. I was impressed at the casting of Jamie and his friends and family; every theatre show should take a leaf out of this book.
All in all, Jamie New brings a refreshing breath of air to theatre. The lighting, staging, costumes, casting, singing, and most of all the comedy of the show will bring you all on Jamie’s journey with him. He is the most lovable character to root for and will make you laugh until your sides hurt. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will be truly missed from the West End stage, and I have all my fingers and toes crossed that one day it will return. But, in the fear that it won’t, see it as soon as you can, you won’t regret it. If you can’t see Jamie in the West End, then they are also currently touring around the UK until August this year.
CUB’s Abbie Harrison is a first year QM historian who loves reading fiction books, baking and travelling, in addition to her passion for theatre.