Layton Williams started young, with the encouragement of his parents, taking dance and singing lessons. “I really enjoyed being the centre of attention and being fabulous – I always went the extra mile at Halloween.”
His first stage role came at Primary School playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan, but in our conversation we leap forward to his big break. “ My mum saw an advert – a call-out for auditions for the musical Billy Elliot. So we had the day out in Manchester for it. I can’t quite believe it. I had no CV, but went through round after round and I was still there. I improvised and fluked my way through it. No-one looked like me but then I saw an Asian boy who has become one of my closest friends”.
That boy was Matthew Koon, who became the first non-white Billy. But Layton was also singled out and spent a year learning the part. I asked if he was conscious he was breaking new ground as the first mixed race actor to play the part. “Not really, I was just getting on with it, in a Billy bubble. I had a quiet confidence – I knew I deserved it”.
So aged 12, he played Billy on the West End stage, and later starred as the young Michael Jackson in Thriller- Live, on tv in Beautiful People and Bad Education, and on stage in Rent, Hairspray, Kiss me Kate and Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man. He began playing Jamie in the West End in 2019 when the pandemic struck, but has now resumed the role in its UK tour.
Asked if he was worried about being typecast in gender fluid or Gay roles he said: “ I’m having the best time. I’ve done male romantic leads but I love being Queer and telling Queer stories, so why the f—— would I care? It’s an honour. I want to do credible work across all genres, as long as I’m pushing myself “.
Asked the vexed question about whether Queer characters should be played by Queer actors, he’s clear: “Queer people will be better at Queer parts. There are less opportunities for Queer actors- it’s closer to my personal experiences of being Queer. You can’t fake it”.
The current UK tour of Jamie brings him to Brighton in December. “I was a bit worried about doing it again after so long- I asked if I could enjoy it? I’m having the best time.We’re playing to 1800 people a night who are out of their seats. Every time I step on stage it’s a new show. It’s hard to get bored”. And he’s now the longest running Jamie, and he adds: “ I’m way less frantic this time. I believe in myself and enjoy the show”.
”I love, love, love Brighton. I only go in the summer but I’ll embrace the weather with my mittens and hat. I have so many memories of Brighton – I took my boyfriend there for his birthday this year”.
Layton stars in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, alongside Bianca Del Rio at Brighton’s Theatre Royal from 7 December to 2 January
A longer version of this article will appear in December’s Scene magazine when Layton tells me about his future trip to Los Angeles as Jamie.
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