Jamie Campbell was an ambitious 16 year old boy determined not only to go to his school prom in a dress, but also to become a drag queen. After typing ‘How to get a documentary made’ into a search engine and firing off a myriad of emails to production companies, Firecracker responded and the TV documentary ‘Jamie, Drag Queen at 16’ was made. Jes Wilkins, Chief Creative Officer at Fire cracker says of Jamie, ‘He’s a lovely character – he’s a combination of confidence and vulnerability. What was striking was the fact he wanted to be in the Spotlight, he wanted to be fabulous, but not in a reality-TV kind of way; it’s just the core of his being. There was something about Jamie that was special.”

I overheard someone in the foyer in the interval say ‘He wants to be a drag queen, so what?’, plot wise, yes, thats true, thematically the show is so SO much more. It’s about ambition, growth, acceptance, strength, understanding and the brilliance and pain of human relationships. Most of all it was real, based on real people, real lives, real relationships, the place where the best kind of stories are found.

The thing that struck me the most about ‘Jamie’ was the strength of the book and the cracking and hilarious dialogue. So many musicals are song packed and the dialogue can often feel like an excuse for another musical number. The book is brilliant, the text is given as much precedence as the songs, maybe more and Jamie’s story is hilariously, gutsily and realistically told. There are just nine songs in act one and each is there for the right reasons, not shoehorned in for songs sake.

The show just starts, no fanfare, no overture, we wait a while for the ‘opening number’ and it really works. Composer Dan Gillespie Sells and lyricist and book writer Tom Macrae have more than done Jamie Campbell’s story justice, every character, even the smaller ensemble roles, are well written and clearly defined, each with their own distinct arcs. It’s their first professional collaboration, I sincerely hope it’s the first of many.

John McCrea as the titular Jamie shines and captures both the bravado and vulnerability of a sixteen year old boy coming into his own. Mina Anwar as Ray and Lucie Shorthouse as Pritti are perfectly cast as pillars of strength and friendship for our hero. Pritti’s solo ‘It Means Beautiful’ in act two is just lovely, it’s particularly moving when we realise the reprise of this is meant as a comfort for herself.

The antagonist’s of the piece, Tamsin Caroll as Miss Hedge, Ken Christiansen as Jamie’s Dad and Luke Baker as school bully Dean, play their roles perfectly. They never stray into ‘classic villain’ territory, they are real and flawed and I left the auditorium feeling sorry for them.

Jamie’s Drag mother Loco Chanel aka Hugo Battersby, played by Phil Nichol and her accompanying Queens Laika Virgin (Alex Anstey), Tray Sophisticay (James Gillan) and Sandra Bollock (Daniel Jacob) are the perfect guides into the the glitter filled world of drag and fabulousness in the north of England. Each member of the ensemble, Jamie’s school mates, are great; believable and instantly recognisable as characters that can be found in every year 11 state school across the country.

The real heart of the piece though is Jamie’s mother, Margaret, played by Josie Walker. Her solo in act two, ‘He’s My Boy’ is standout, gut wrenching, heart wrenching and everything in between. It’s a masterclass of both song writing and performance.

Its so refreshing to see a musical with real heart and grit and glitter in the West End. Comparisons have been made with ‘Billy Elliot’ and I can see why, but Jamie’s story is an event in it’s own right.

Everybody is talking about Jamie, he is a is a superstar and I definitely know it.

Reviewed by Byron Butler
Photo: Alastair Muir

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