Everbody’s Talking About Jamie – Festival Theatre

Music by Dan Gillespie Sells

Book & Lyrics by Tom Macrae

From the Original Idea by Jonathan Butterall

Directed by Matt Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Acceptance and Identity. Peculiar that these two pivotal and paramount concepts are so difficult for us to overcome and welcome – both others, and ourselves. With a few spoonfuls of Priscilla, dollops of Billy Elliot, and all the decadence of the drink stained, nicotine-infused bars of Soho – Everybody’s Talking About Jamie continues to burn away through the humdrum of musical theatre’s catalogue, a welcome addition, and a welcome return of an old friend.

Just before the initial lockdowns across the UK, Everyone’s Talking About Jamie was one of the final productions to feature at the Festival Theatre. And though elements of the cast have changed, Layton Williams remains the star of the show, but more than that – any who caught the show’s previous tour will note that Layton’s control is additionally more mature, his vocals stellar and precise, and his conduction of the space is spectacular. This maturity stretches into the production’s profound moments of pain, of self-discovery.

Based on the accounts of the real Jamie, one Jamie Campbell, the fairytale(ish) version of events follows sixteen-year-old Jamie New as he begins to reflect on what life really can offer and how a pair of heels could fit into that narrative. A Drag Queen in the making, from an early age Jamie has had a panache for style and liked dressing in clothes traditionally assigned to girls – much to his father’s ire, but his mother’s support. A chance meeting with ex-drag royalty Loco Chanelle catapults Jamie to smalltown stardom and the difficulties which come with grappling with one’s identity and fame but the burnout from those closest.

The cast remains much the same from the previous tour which glammed up the streets of Edinburgh two years ago, but an exceptionally welcome face is Sasha Latoya taking the role of Ray, Margaret’s best friend, and extended member of Jamie’s family. The gusto and moxie Latoya belts are impressive, a perfect foil to Jamie’s antics and the one best suited to call him out of his stupors.

But it is Amy Ellen Richardson’s nuances and talent that bridge into the audience, particularly parents. Visceral and genuine reactions to Layton’s performance, Richardson is the production’s giving heart. The decision to not paint Margaret as a fully supportive mother, who even as the most liberal and loving parent, demonstrates limits of understanding is brave and an honest take. And as powerful and catchy as Tom MacRae’s lyrics and Dan Gillespie’s composition are across the board – He’s My Boy is launched into the pantheon of ballads that dominate musical theatre. But we have to remember, there is, of course, one more leading lady who has pride of place in the spotlight.

Subbing in for Shane Richie, Rhys Taylor has long been a talented performer undertaking the role of Tray Sophisticay through the show’s run. Stepping up to the mark, Taylor is a natural Loco Chanelle and a superior vocalist – while some audiences may grumble at the lack of their star vehicle, Taylor is a pleasure to watch, and if anything is the real treat of the night.

But the show isn’t all champagne, caviar and hot pants. A narrative centring on an openly gay teen’s desire to perform drag and wear a dress to prom invites the antagonism of ignorance. Opting for realism over a Shakespearean adversary, our antagonists are less villains and more reflections of what we still struggle with. Particularly Jamie’s careers advisor Miss Hedge, Lara Denning’s carrying the role of a stressed teacher balancing several plates at once, who manages to showcase both Anna Fleichle’s set design and Kate Prince’s choreography with ease.

Similarly, though heavily underutilised, is George Sampson’s bully Dean. A lug head whose own confusions and difficulties with a bigoted father stray into the story. His choreography is tight, but the character only moves into a fleshed-out dimension once given a marvellous dressing down by Sharan Phull’s marvellous Pritti Pasha.

As the neon glints of Lucy Carter’s lighting design keep the party rolling, the pacing and momentum of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie fly by the time spent in the theatre, resulting in the well-deserving standing ovations. From the lips of the Westend to the Scottish capital, it’s a progressive storytelling adventure that throws open the doors to any audience and reminds them to strap on their heels, take the bins out, and be their best self. 

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie runs at the Festival Theatre until April 2nd. Tickets for which can be obtained here.

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