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Waterfront Festival

Theatre Review: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

24 February 22 words: Benjamin Knight

A secondary school boy who yearns for a life of stardom and a pair of killer heels

I can relate to this. I started my drag career just a few months ago at the age of 27. It had never occurred to me before, but after the first gay pride after lockdown, I wandered into the drag club on zero hours sleep and had the dreams of eight-foot-tall sugar plum fairies beamed at high power into my semi-lucid brain. Now, I perform as Benthic Scream (@benthic.scream on Instagram, for the record).

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is already on the level that it has received a major movie adaptation, which I haven’t seen, but my first experience with the stage version has been fantastic. Layton Williams plays Jamie New in the (semi) true story of a secondary school boy who yearns for a life of stardom and a pair of killer heels, going against the grain of teenage life and his fellow students to lip sync on the Barcardi-soaked stage of the local drag club. He’s supported by his shy friend Pritti Pasha (Sharan Phull), with whom he bonds about their identities – for her, it’s as a proud Muslim.

I was expecting all of my heart to be with Jamie – why wouldn’t it be, as someone who’s undergoing the beginning of this journey himself? But it was Amy Ellen Richardson’s performance as Jamie’s mother Margaret that stole the show for me; I really felt her as trying her best to support and live through her son and the ballet number alongside her first solo brought me close to tears. George Paxton and Cameron Johnson also made themselves fantastically detestable as Jamie’s bully and dad to the point of both receiving a good old panto “boo!” from the front rows.

From what I’ve learned from my brief time in drag, everyone goes through their journey differently. Like Jamie, you could be daydreaming from a young age about a life of stardom, vividly remembering your first time in your mum’s heels. Or you could do it on a whim, seeing a king or queen one day and realising it might be for you – any age, any time. There’s not one right way to do it either. Gender expression is funny that way, which seems to have also been the conclusion of the musical’s ultimate prom scene. The villains aren’t victoriously defeated, stardom isn’t achieved, but Jamie accepts a version of himself that exists in spite of the antagonism. Sure, there are easy clapbacks to homophobic characters written like someone imagining if they could go back and cleverly defend themselves in school, but the light gags add levity to the subject matter of the queer experience in secondary school.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie resonated powerfully with me and is now, so far, the first live musical I’ve wanted to instantly see a second time, and one that will be with me in the back of my mind while I’m sewing a dress or up on stage. 

Also Shane Ritchie off Eastenders tried to fist bump the sign language interpreter at the end and got rejected, and it upset me for the entire walk home.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal from Wednesday 23 to Saturday 26 February 2022.

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