“Go give the boys boners they won’t know what to do with”
When Everybody’s Talking About Jamie made its debut in Sheffield earlier this year (here’s my review), hopes were high for a transfer, the news of which took a little time to be confirmed, leaving me worried it would suffer the fate of the gorgeous Flowers for Mrs Harris. But this sparkling new show has arrived in the West End and now sits on Shaftesbury Avenue at the Apollo as a proud piece of new British musical theatre and an equally proud piece of LGBT+ storytelling.
Written by Dan Gillespie Sells (music) and Tom MacRae (book and lyric) and adapted from a BBC documentary, Jamie casts off the archetypal coming out and gay bashing stories (though not completely ignoring them) in favour of a main narrative about an out and proud teen who is insistent that he’s going to his high school prom in drag but only belatedly coming to realise that his determination to be fierce has consequences for those who love him.
And on second viewing, it was the idea of family being the ones you choose to surround yourself with that really resonated. Josie Walker is outstanding as Margaret, the single mother who has scrimped and saved and sacrificed so much, trying her best to understanding towards a son whose journey of self-discovery seems to be taking him further away from her. And the relationship with Mina Anwar’s best friend Ray – simultaneously comic relief and a pseudo-parent figure for Jamie – is beautifully drawn.
And the camaraderie between the local drag queens shouldn’t be underestimated either, from Phil Nichol’s Loco Chanel to James Gillan’s Tray Sophisticay. For all their bitchy one-liners to one another, you just know they’d defend each other to the limit and that’s another form of family to which Jamie is drawn, as he sets about establishing his own drag persona. John McCrea’s title character is a wonderfully self-possessed streak of petulant precocity and maintains our sympathies even when he’s all me me me…
I’d also forgotten just how funny Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is. Directed by Jonathan Butterell, MacRae’s script is jam-packed with zingers from pretty much everyone, although the Emmeline Pankhurst / Beyoncé analogy stole it for me. And Gillespie Sells’ pop-influenced score is an absolute breath of fresh air, from Walker’s elegiac torch song ‘If I Met Myself Again’ to McCrea’s catwalk strut through ‘Walk of Art’, Tamsin Carroll’s inspired Betty Boo-esque rap midway through ‘Don’t Even Know It’ to the quiet beauty of Lucie Shorthouse’s ‘It Means Beautiful’.
Shorthouse’s Pritti, Jamie’s best friend, is also worthy of mention, emblematic of the matter-of-fact diversity in this ensemble, and a brilliant – and all too rare – example of an everyday Muslim character. This is a musical for today, reflecting the Britain of today – you really need to go see it now!
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Alastair Muir
Booking until 21st April