Teenagers flocked to Curve last night to see the boy everybody’s been talking about.
Arriving early, expecting to take a relaxing seat in the theatre café before the show, we weren't expecting people practically pressed against the glass walls, cramming themselves into Curve to get a glimpse of the glamorous Jamie New (Layton Williams, BBC’s Beautiful People and Bad Education) of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
The musical appeals to parents too. Jamie’s marvellous mother Margaret New (Amy Ellen Richardson, West End: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾) carries a whole second plot based on real life relationship breakdowns and 'unconventional' family life all by herself while Jamie pursues his dream of becoming a drag queen and wearing a dream to prom.
Parents in the audience no doubt relate to Margaret's struggle to come to terms with eventually letting go of her only son who would soon be going away to college or exploring the world, or becoming a drag Queen, or whatever opportunities are possible for coming-of-age teens these days. Richardson convincingly belts out ‘He's My Boy’, a power ballad you can fully get on board with. With no theatrics here, kids or no kids, you can relate to and fully feel the emotion beaming from Margaret down to your last hair as it stands on end.
The set is simplistic and mostly grey emphasising the dullness of the Sheffield town that the bright and beautiful Jamie has grown up in. But flashy lights and clever movement routines positioning props and sets gave energy to deliberately lifeless scenes. It was disappointing though that the musical only hinted towards drag shows, extravagant costumes, and all that comes with it. More outfits, glitz and glamour could have coloured in the colourless backdrops of Sheffield but it’s understandable that the message is the most powerful and memorable thing about this musical.
Individualism, compassion, understanding, and acceptance are the main themes aiming to show that anyone should be able to be whoever they want to be. Despite all the swearing, there is no rating on this show meaning children – and adults – can soak up these messages that have always been important but that are realistically only just being shared in recent years. The students are encouraged to ironically ‘keep it real’ by an outdated teacher who lacks the all-important traits of compassion, understanding and acceptance, but it’s not her fault, she’s just following the rules that society has set.
Miss Hedge (Laura Denning) represents a stiff, narrow-minded education system while she kicks her students' dreams to the Sheffield curbs. She's frustratingly good. Eventually defying Miss Hedge and all that she symbolises, the quiet, studious, Muslim girl Pritti Pasha (Sharan Phull), a supportive friend with a stand-out, stunning voice, proves she has her own story and her own personality worthy of her own musical.
Dance numbers were slick and lively and each classmate gets to showcase their own personality and sense of humour, much to the ignorance of their careers advisor Miss Hedge.
Shane Richie plays Hugo, the owner of a costume shop and Legendary alter-ego drag queen Loco Chanel and he’s truly fantastic. He adds some much-needed humour to darker scenes and vital advice to Jamie when he’s feeling lost.
As for the one character we've not talked nearly enough about… Jamie feels real thanks to Williams’ natural performance. His spirit, kindness, enthusiasm, humour, and the way he stands up to those bullies is so admirable. Endearing, Jamie’s humorous, sassy one-liners are examples of today’s humour in young adult culture making the show feel even more relatable.
With the help of Williams’ comical deliveries, the script has had plenty of Covid references added in making the story feel even more real and current. And with that, it was clear we’re all getting used to being out and about again with several phones going off throughout the show.
The ending really does ‘keep it real’. Not everyone gets closure, some people will not accept you, and you won’t please everyone, but you can still make your own happiness if you’re brave enough.
See Everybody's Talking About Jamie at Curve until September 25.
Written by Kerry Smith
Kerry is editor of Cross Production's Niche Magazine in Leicester and has a degree in film and journalism. She writes about business news, entertainment, and local people.