Mark Ludmon is wowed by exuberant new musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at Apollo Theatre
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Apollo Theatre, London
28 November 2018
Everybody really has been talking about new musical, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, since it burst onto the stage at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in February. With most of the leads still in place, the production has transferred to the Apollo Theatre, London and, to everybody’s relief, its exuberance and positivity remain just as entertaining and infectious.
Still firmly set in Sheffield, the show follows the journey by 16-year-old Jamie New to achieve his dream of not only becoming a professional drag queen but going to his school prom as a boy in a dress. Based on the real-life story of teenager Jamie Campbell from County Durham, it has been turned into a perfectly formed musical packed with comedy, acrobatic choreography and uplifting pop-inspired songs by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae.
While the show is full of joy, it is not all plain sailing for Jamie. He faces homophobic bullying from a classmate and opposition from the school to his prom dress plan, but you feel that nothing can’t be overcome if you have a positive attitude and put a little more mascara on. We see Jamie face the tougher challenge of being rejected by a father who finds his cross-dressing “disgusting” but, while it contributes to some heart-breaking moments, the strength of Jamie’s friendships and relationship with his mother more than compensates.
The star of the show is inevitably John McCrea in a mesmerising, flawless performance as Jamie. With sinuous poise, he can turn a table into a catwalk and a classroom into a cabaret while delivering razor-sharp one-liners. Although Jamie can be over-dramatic and crave attention (like many a 16-year-old), this is balanced by a vulnerability and generosity that ensures he never loses his charm and likeability.
While Jamie is the heart of the show, his mum, Margaret, is its soul, powerfully played by Josie Walker. With strength and sensitivity, she delivers some of the most show-stopping songs of the show, most notably the moving ballad, He’s My Boy. While she is the touchstone for the emotional drama, she is wonderfully complemented by Mina Anwar as wise-cracking best friend, Ray, who gets many of the biggest laughs out of the sparklingly witty writing.
They are well supported by Tamsin Carroll as Jamie’s steely teacher Miss Hedge, representing those who tell him to dream of something more realistic like being a forklift driver, and Lucie Shorthouse as Jamie’s best friend, Pritti Pasha. Comedian Phil Nichol initially seems uncharacteristically muted as Yorkshireman Hugo Battersby, owner of drag boutique Victor’s Secret, but he unexpectedly blossoms when transformed into his fabulous alter ego, Loco Chanel – a fine match for Alex Anstey, James Gillan and Daniel Jacob as three old pros from the drag circuit.
The exuberance of the show owes much to the talented young cast playing Jamie’s schoolmates who bring boundless energy to the stage through Kate Prince’s choreography. With such a consummate company under director and co-writer Jonathan Butterell, the show never lets up on the rollercoaster ride of Jamie’s unstoppable drive to be his own fabulous self. With its messages of acceptance and tolerance, not just on sexual identity but also on race and religion, it is very much a feelgood fable for our times. It’s clear that everybody’s going to be talking about Jamie for a long time to come.
Booking to April 21, 2018.