Monday, 3 April 2017

Everbody's Talking About Jamie - Review

A New Musical by Dan Gillespie Sells & Tom MacRae
14th February 2017, The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

 Jamie New is sixteen. He’s from Sheffield. And he has a secret; he wants to be a drag queen. Such is the setting for this most unusual of musicals...
The opening number, ‘Don’t Even Know It’, appears to owe something to Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s Matilda: school kids in blazer and tie, dancing on old-fashioned desks as we briefly leave the mundanity of the classroom for the fantasy world of the children. Except these aren’t naughty young urchins; they’re Year 11’s, about to take their GCSE’s, being advised on a future career path. This isn’t so much Roald Dahl, as Russell T Davies - appropriate, given writer Tom MacRae’s history of writing for the Davies-era of Doctor Who. Jamie (John Mcrea) is an out and proud sixteen year old, and, as with Davies’ dramas, it’s refreshing to see a gay character so comfortable in his own skin. Largely accepted and embraced by his multi-ethnic cohort, in a day and age where RuPaul’s Drag Race is one of the top shows on Netflix, this musical feels firmly placed in the 21st Century. 

Like the Minchin musical that seemingly inspired some of the staging, the composer's voice shines through in every song; fans of Gillespie Sells’ band The Feeling will recognise his ear for a catchy pop tune, and just as easily imagine him singing each song as ‘Fill My Little World’ or ‘Sewn. But even for those who don’t follow Gillespie Sells’ career religiously, the score is enjoyable and tugs at the heartstrings at the right moments.

Talented newcomer Mcrea plays the titular Jamie with an irresistible charm worthy of the boy himself (the musical is based on the story of Jamie Campbell, featured in the BBC documentary Drag Queen at 16.) Jamie’s loving mother Margaret (Josie Walker), tries desperately to juggle being a single mother enthusiastically encouraging and carefully raising her boy, while trying to maintain the charade that his erstwhile father (Spencer Stafford) still loves and cares for him. Margaret covers for his absence from events in Jamie’s life; after all, no-one wants to grow up resenting their parents. The picture she paints of the distant but ultimately caring father is so tragic that we wish it to be true, despite seeing with our own eyes that it isn’t. 

But Jamie is about more than that. As Director Jonathan Butterell said at the Q&A afterwards, the show is not actually a niche musical about a 16 year old wannabe-drag queen; but a universal story about a boy and his Mum. There are many ‘Jamies’ out there, he said, and in the current political climate, a story like this encourages those Jamies to be open, proud, and say ‘we’re here, we’re real, and we’re not going away’. In an age of a more socially conservative backlash (exemplified by Brexit and Trump) to, in the grand scheme of things, a barely established liberal order, Jamie is a loud proclamation that we should be who we want to be; and, like all good drag queens, it does it in six-inch heels.

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