Mar 16, 2022
8 mins read
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, Tuesday 15th March 2022
Based upon the 2011 BBC3 documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has been high up on my wish list since it launched. As a teacher, I’ve seen first-hand how inspiring this musical has been to so many of the young people I teach as they navigate the perils of growing up and coming to terms with who they are. I had booked tickets for this show when it was first confirmed as coming to Woking in May 2020, but obviously, that never happened. For those of you who have listened to our episode covering the Amazon Prime adaptation, you will know how I was somewhat disappointed, so going into the theatre I was filled with hope that the show might offer redemption!
Layton Williams (Bad Education) plays Jamie New; 16 and a soon-to-be school leaver about to enter the unknown. Jamie has big dreams, but a tragic backstory of emotional abuse from a father he longs to please seems to provide the obstacle he cannot overcome. The play is not just about the glitz and glam of Drag; it is about empowerment and believing in oneself. Williams is absolutely fantastic as Jamie; he makes Jamie glamourous and vulnerable and excels in the role. In an interview, it becomes clear that Layton has worked hard to think about who Jamie New really is to aid his performance, stating “On the surface, Jamie comes over as really confident and out-there, but there’s so much vulnerability to him.” Layton nails this, as there are moments where we laugh and moments where we cry. His singing voice in particular takes us through the highs with And You Don’t Even Know It(which serves as a wonderful introduction to Jamie) and Work Of Art (At least; Jamie’s version of it!) through to the lows of The Wall In My Head and Ugly In This Ugly World with ease. This show hinges on the success of a likable and relatable Jamie; and whilst we see him at his best and worst, Jamie remains a character we route for because of Layton’s charm and energy.
The show does a far better job at building ensemble players and making them more important. Ray is a character that I felt pointless in the movie adaptation, as she was left with minimal development and could be cut and never missed. Lisa-Marie Holmes is absolutely brilliant in the role, and brings a wonderful presence to the stage whenever she is on; especially in scenes she shares with Layton. As his “aunt” she is there to provide him guidance at the bleakest of times but in a manner that manage to keep the audience laughing and engaged. I really enjoyed Limited Edition Prom Night Special, as it was a wonderful “private moment” between this family celebrating Jamie. One of my complaints of the movie was how gloomy the songs were; this is a song that definitely lifts the audience’s spirits and provides some much needed positivity in a difficult Act 2. This is to the detriment of Miss Hedge and Dean Paxton, who seem to have less, which is a shame as both Lara Denning and George Sampson (winner of Britain’s Got Talent!) were absolutely brilliant and left me wanting more. Do they necessarily deserve redemption? No; but they served their narrative purpose and both actors went above and beyond to create memorable characters.
Act 1 is all about Jamie finding Mimi Me, and Act 2 deals with the troubles that come with her. This is a show all about acceptance; but not just in others accepting Jamie, but him accepting herself. He believes his fab drag persona will answer all his problems and remove the tainted impression of “disgusting” that his father left him with. Act 2 is, appropriately, less glitz and glam, and is driven by strong character development. The titular song opens Act 2 with style and is a fantastic number with wonderful choreography (a feature embedded through the show – well done Kate Prince!) but the joy that Mimi Me brings is fleeting. We get some wonderful growth from Jamie has he comes to terms with the loss of his father and the real family he has built. Between his mother Margaret (Amy Ellen Richardson) and best friend Pritti (Sharah Phull) we get two powerhouse numbers that hit the emotional crescendo needed to show Jamie how loved he is. It Means Beautiful and He’s My Boy were not songs I enjoyed in the movie; partly due to pacing issues. In the context of this show, they deliver and are fantastic moments from two wonderful performers.
The set design for this show is simply phenomenal. Between the lighting design (Lucy Carter) and the set itself (Anna Fleischle). Jamie is nearly outshone by the world he embodies. The transitions are crisp; from a hinge that opens the backdrop up into Jamie’s kitchen, to Loco Chanel’s enshrined dresses descending from the ceiling, the performance flows smoothly and creates a sense of awe and wonder. The lighting is appropriately glam (This isn’t Sheffield anymore…) but also captures moments of isolation with ease. I also loved the use of video design (Luke Halls) and how it was used to capture different tones and moments. The snapshots of Jamie in Work of Art brilliantly showcase the world of celebrity in a foreboding manner that makes you question if this world really is what Jamie wants. I also loved the houses that would create the landscape in external scenes. The world of Jamie only comes to life so effectively because these three vital areas of development have been so lovingly and painstakingly embraced. I’m also a fan of seeing the band on stage, and loved seeing them behind the display.
Time to talk about the elephant in the room; Loco Chanel. We discussed our concerns of casting Richard E. Grant in the movie, and similar concerns continue with Shane Richie. It still feels in poor taste to have Jamie’s mentor be cast as a cis man, but I was so pleased to see the return of The Legend of Loco Chanel (And The Blood Red Dress) after it was carelessly replaced by This Was Me for the film. This is less Hugo teaching Jamie about LGBTQ+ history, and more Hugo chronicling the fake history of his character. This works so much better; but sometimes Richie’s mannerisms of Hugo as a camp, gay man felt out of touch and offensive. Fine as Loco (it is drag after all!) but not as Hugo.
It does beg the question; could we not have cast a genuine drag performer for this role? Shane Richie does bring the energy to Hugo, who feels revitalised upon meeting Jamie and his performance of The Legend of Loco Chanel (And The Blood Red Dress) won’t disappoint, but I would hope the caricatured (and offensive) body language of an effeminate gay man might be phased out for future performances. The audience laughed, and at times I was left wondering about their rationale for laughing – as we discussed in our Priscilla, Queen of the Desert review, this seems to be a wider problem with audiences who are not so LGBTQ+ friendly or aware, and does need to be talked about. The New Victoria Theatre created a wonderfully LGBTQ+ friendly space at the interval, with tables adorned with a range of different LGBTQ+ representational flags and we were very lucky to have the chance to discuss the show, and other issues, with the passionate staff of Pride in Surrey. It really was wonderful to see this show supported in such a positive manner and is a really good step into encouraging better education into the issues facing the LGBTQ+ community and discouraging negativity from the audiences.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and for good reason. This is an absolutely wonderful show that will not disappoint its audience. Quite rightly, it was met with a standing ovation. Unlike the Amazon Prime adaptation, this didn’t drag and was met with a wonderful balance of upbeat numbers and slow, character driven moments. This is the definitive Jamie experience that needs to be seen live. Not only will it deliver, it will empower you!
Download our episode – coming out Monday 21st March for more of our thoughts and to find out who our MVP is; along with more talk on our favourite songs and what roles we would want to play.
It’s A Musical! Podcast is available on a multitude of good podcast providers.
You can follow us on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok @ItsAMusicalPod
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is currently playing at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking until Saturday 19th March 2022. You can follow them on:
Twitter and Instagram: @JamieMusical or use the #JamieTour