Culture Writer Rachel Shaper reviews Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, praising the musical’s uplifting story and strong cast performances

Written by R.Shaper

The opening night of the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre was packed when the doors opened and ended with a standing ovation. The story follows 16-year-old Jamie New from Sheffield, who dreams of becoming a drag queen, but struggles to confine himself and his big personality to the restraints of ‘being normal’ that are put on him by others. The true story originally took place in 2011, before gay marriage was legal in the UK and when homophobia was arguably much more rife, especially in schools. Since the original Jamie Campbell went to prom in a dress, as showcased in the documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, the hit musical has travelled from Sheffield to the West End in 2017, and is now on tour around the country. The story is still engaging, electric, and entertaining to the fullest.

At the opening night in Wolverhampton, Jamie was played by the understudy, Finton Flynn, and his electric performance gave no hint that he was not originally cast for the role (Ivano Turco is the main actor for Jamie). The Sheffield accents and relatable struggle of being unsure about one’s own future, immediately brings the performance to life in the opening scene and makes the audience connect with Jamie’s character. When Jamie’s best friend, Pritti Pasha (Talia Palamanthanan), suggests he embraces his differences and wear his new high heels and a dress to the upcoming school prom, despite living in the unaccepting environment of his school and town, it sets him on a path that tests him and his sense of identity. Along with physical and verbal attacks from classmates, Jamie deals with institutional problems, such as when his careers teacher, Miss Hedge (Giovanna Fletcher), repeatedly tramples his dreams and attempts to prevent him from attending the prom in drag. Through this the performance manages to capture the many struggles that gay people, and in general those that are considered different, must endure in this society. 

The story is still engaging, electric, and entertaining to the fullest

Whilst it’s true that everybody is talking about Jamie, this doesn’t mean that the other characters are neglected. Jamie’s mother, Margaret (Rebecca McKinnis), is an especially multi-faceted character, who reflects on her own life in the song ‘If I met myself again,’ partially lamenting her time spent with Jamie’s absent father (Akshay St Claire) but not being able to fully regret this because she never wishes away her life with Jamie, but rather accepts him just the way he is. Additionally, McKinnis’s heart wrenching performance of the ballad ‘He’s My Boy’ reflects the stressed yet intensely loving relationship between a single mother and her homosexual son, whom she is trying to protect from his father’s neglect and hatred. Family friend Ray (Shobna Gulati) consistently provides comic relief in a show that covers hard-hitting themes, whilst also acting as a secondary guardian or replacement father figure to Jamie; as he and his mother jokingly comment, ‘She’s more a man than he [Jamie’s father] will ever be.’ The character of Hugo (John Partridge), also known by his drag persona Loco Chanel, acts as a mentor for Jamie throughout his personal journey as he discovers his drag persona whilst learning who he is in himself. Hugo helps Jamie overcome stage fright, mistreatment from his father, and bullying from his classmates. 

McKinnis’s heart wrenching performance of the ballad ‘He’s My Boy’ reflects the stressed yet intensely loving relationship

The set design is complex, yet is used to move flawlessly between time and place: for example, light-up tables being used as school desks are transformed into a runway for Jamie to test his new heels on. Additionally, the drag outfits of the queens from the Legs 11 club and Loco Chanel are flawless and eye-catching. However, it is somewhat of a disappointment to not properly see Jamie’s drag transformation, although this is understandable given the time constraints of getting in and out of drag. 

While it’s been over a decade since the original Jamie’s story was first broadcast to the world, his message of self-love and acceptance still rings true, and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is extremely enjoyable to watch. 

Rating: 4.5/5

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