Review by Eric Page
Inspired by the true story of a young gay man banned from attending his prom in a dress, feel-good musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has proved a hit on the West End since opening in 2017. This new tour continues the high octane engagement of the original show and tells the story of Jamie New, a 16-year-old, tall, different, shy lad who lives on a council estate in Sheffield, does his best to study, keep his friendships honest, be as true to himself as he can, and cope with the pressures of growing up gay in a single parent household. Jamie knows he’s different, but grasps that that is power unfocused, and although fearful of what the future might hold, he knows, just knows, that he’s going to be a sensation.
As the story unfolds and prom at school gets closer, we see him blossom under the careful mentoring of Loco Chanel, a believable portrait from John Partridge of a lost drag act and drag mother. The unconditional love and support from Jamie’s brilliant, loving mum allows him to dream, but also protects him from harsh truths he needs to learn to grow. Surrounded by his friends, and family friend Ray (Shobna Gulati) – a fierce female warrior and virtual co-parent for Jamie – he overcomes prejudice, develops into his full brilliance, finds his fierce drag heart, calls out and beats the bullies and steps out of the darkness, with careful intent into the spotlight he’s craved.
This is a coming of age but not coming out Jamie, who is already ‘out’ at the beginning, and very happy with that. The main narrative rubbed up against the experience of every queer person and gay man in the audience of which there were quite a few, along with some glamorous drag people of note, in and out of sequinned fabulousness. It’s a triumphant trumpeting of gender diversity, celebrating untrammelled queerness as the core of being.
It’s very soft focus in places, and the small-minded teacher, father and bullies don’t really get their comeuppance, but then it’s not their story, so being sidelined is perhaps the point. Jamie endures, grows, and becomes his authentic self. The tender friendship between outsiders Jamie and Pritti (Talia Palamathanan) give insight and emotional connection to this foundational teenage relationship. The relationships between a young queer man and the women around him who strive and sacrifice to nurture him, echo many of our own experiences growing up.
My companion commented on how the dancing was superb and really kept their attention. This a seriously slick troupe of lithe dancers who perform energetic dances of complex, contemporary, referenced dancing with real energy and pizzazz, the choreography from Kate Prince is to be celebrated along with the performers themselves. The wholly original music from Dan Gillespie Sells gives this musical its throbbing, steadfast engine, keeping the flow of tension, story, and resolution firmly under control.
Jamie is played with tenderness and modest conviction by Ivano Turco, the audience warming to them. Shobna Gulati turning in a polished, hard-as-nails, been-there-done-it, soulful Northern woman and landed the laughs flawlessly. Rebecca Mckinnis, the other main female lead as Jamie’s mother, keeps her emotional energy steady until bringing the house down and drawing the whole show together with her volcanic act two solo He’s My Boy, the standout moment of the evening.
The supporting cast are excellent, hopping on and off, with some decidedly camp cameos from the drag queens, it’s always a deliciously odd clash of culture – school musical and Priscilla Queen of Canal Street – but there’s much humour to be mined of this Northern cultural clash, its warm and welcoming heart always visible.
I felt curiously untouched by the emotional narrative of protagonist Jamie but was kept engaged and entertained by the energetic dancing and fast pacing of production director Jonathan Butterell working within the limits of this stretched fabric to make the very best of the talent on stage. The drag moments brought surreal relief, but also referenced some reassuring eternalness of queer cultures. I reflected on this generational musical of queerness, absorbed on mentoring and protecting each other, hidden in plain sight.
The glamorous audience and their friends loved it and sashayed out into the rainy October Brighton night bubbling with heart warming chatter, content with a show they’d enjoyed.
At Theatre Royal Brighton until Saturday, November 11.
For more info or to buy tickets see the Theatre Royal Website here: