The show is Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, a lad who wants to wear a dress. But as times have moved on the chatter is now about the working-class white boys who, as the school bully Dean is told, have no future.
There is of course a lot of poignancy and sadness around the story of a boy whose dad doesn’t like his ambitions to be a drag queen and finds him disgusting, whose teacher who tries to steer him and his school pals to sensible jobs, and who some school bullies pick on for wanting to be a boy who wants to wear a dress.
But this is no Billy Elliott. A clever show would have more of the outlook of all of the children in the school whose ambitions are stamped on by their careers teacher and then of the disappointment of the adults whose lives seemingly haven’t turned out how they would have liked them to, whether gay, straight, male, female, drag queen, and whatever their profession (or lack of).
Yes, times has changed and a child like Jamie would be fiercely protected by a school and his ambitions and hopes nurtured not dismissed. Similarly, any child facing the abuse some of the other children endures would be taken under a collective wing and the perpetrators in very deep trouble.
In contrast, the boys who are cast as the baddies here are now the real victims, as the character Pritti alludes to although seemingly with the wrong motivation. It is the not particularly educationally accomplished white boys who will be the losers – because that is what society has determined for them.
Also, the pretty gloomy love lives (and again lack of them) of the adults doesn’t really have an awful lot to do with the sartorial inclinations of Jamie.
But, hey, it is just a musical, although you do have to wonder whether the standing ovation audience were applauding the performances and not just the nice feel-good story itself.
The show, based on a documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, based on Bishop Auckland teenager Jamie Campbell, has some catchy tunes and musical theatre ballads, fun dance routines and some decent gags.
The lead player is Layton Williams who the role could have been written for, him. If I remember correctly he had a similar cheeky, camp schoolboy role in a tv show some years back. I am not sure if he may have been suffering from a cold, but the singing voice was very light and at times seemed forced. I have never seen him in any other singing roles so I cannot judge but singing was not his strength in the role.
Fortunately, there are cast members with good musical theatre voices, particularly Amy Ellen Richardson singing the mother, Margaret, and she has the big belter He’s My Boy. Sharan Phull is charming as Jamie’s best friend Pritti, and she too delivers her big numbers well. Shobna Gulati plays Margaret’s feisty friend Ray and brings much humour to the role .
The drag queens are well played by Rhys Taylor as Loco Chanelle and Gary Lee, JP McCue and everyone loves a drag queen especially one with a broken heart – there’s a nice cliché for you.
The title track and Work of Art give the ensemble the chance to show dancing and singing skills. The cast includes George Sampson as that school bully Dean and Laura Denning as the careers teacher Miss Hedge. By the way, someone should tell the schoolkids that being a careers teacher at a high school is rather a nice job with rather good pay and conditions!
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie continues at Wales Millennium Centre until November 20, 2021