REVIEW: Everybody’s talking about Jamie (Apollo Theatre) ★★★★

Layton Williams lights up the West End stage, as he steps in to the red high heels of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

Based on the story of Jamie Campbell, who was featured in the documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie opened at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in February 2017. The majority of this cast transferred with the production when it opened in the West End in November 2017. John McCrea earned universal critical praise for his performance as Jamie and was nominated for an Olivier award. I saw the original production and given the reviews had high expectations, but I was hugely disappointed. I found the show cliched and somewhat laboured in its humour. This week I had the opportunity to see the show again with a presentation of several new actors in the key roles and it made all the difference.

The show tells the story of Jamie New, who we meet on his 16th birthday. Bored with school and life in a small northern town, Jamie dreams of becoming a drag queen. His only problem is that he has absolutely no idea where to start! With the unconditional support of his mother, a pair of red stilettos and some wise words from BFF Pritti, Jamie finds his way to “Loco Chanelle” the local drag attire store where he meets Hugo who tries to set Jamie on the path to his dream.

Watched by an audience that included Jamie Campbell and his mum along with a host of EastEnders actors, the whole cast delivered a fabulous show. Layton Williams is just stunning as Jamie, bringing a real warmth and depth to the character. His singing, acting and dancing are faultless. He brings comedy, emotion and drama (real drama and drama queen) to the role. Williams is a seasoned performer having made his West End debut as a child starring in Billy Elliot, but even so, this is an astonishingly assured performance for his first adult lead role in the West End.

Shane Richie’s performance is likely to give rise to many blogs abut the value or otherwise of celebrity casting! His northern accent seems to travel the length and breadth of the m62 through the show and his Loco Chanelle is rather more pantomime dame than “the greatest drag queen that ever lived”. However, as an actor, Richie has a quality that you just can not help but warm to and he will most definitely grow into the role.

Rebecca McKinnis as Margaret New delivers a beautiful performance, brimming with emotion and stoic northern grit. Her rendition of “He’s my boy” is simply breath-taking.

This fantastic performance did not resolve all my issues with the show. The opening number “And you don’t even know it”, is, in my opinion, the best song of the whole show; the music, lyrics and choreography set an incredibly high bar and the rest of the music never quite hits that height again.

All the characters only exist in relation to their role in Jamie’s life. The character of Jamie’s father in particular is very two dimensional. To be fair one doesn’t attend musical theatre for great nuance and depth, but it would be nice to see a little flesh on the bones of some of the characters. Hayley Tamaddon is excellent as Miss Hedge, but we don’t get any context for the character and the basis for her actions. There is a brief phone call that hints at something which is then not explored.

The biggest frustration is that the show has three fabulous drag artistes but woefully underuses them.

The strength of this cast, the staging and the choreography are quite dazzling and more than compensate for the show’s weaknesses. Choreographer Kate Prince, the founder and creator of the wonderful Zoo Nation Dance Company, has done a superb job on this production. The ensemble pieces with Jamie’s class mates in particular are absolutely brilliant and just bouncing with energy. Each performer in the show takes their part and absolutely nails it in their own way, but the night belongs totally to Layton Williams who does not put a foot wrong. He is sensational.

Reviewed by Emma Heath


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