EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE – Sheffield Lyceum – April 10th 2024

EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE – Sheffield Lyceum – April 10th 2024

Since its explosive world premiere at The Crucible in 2017, the sparkling musical, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, has been a smash hit on stages around the world. Inspired by real life Jamie Campbell, would-be drag queen even at the age of sixteen and subject of a BBC 3 documentary in 2011, the show still keeps delighted audiences flocking in to this current, extensive UK tour.

Dotted with emotional pathos and sadness and conveying a serious message, the show is still largely a bright, frothy, funny, feel-good affair that sings, dances and banters its way towards ultimate joy and victory as it tells its simple, linear, entertaining story with neither dramatic, social backdrop nor sub-plot.

The gloriously choreographed performances from this dynamic ensemble of fleet-footed, exuberant, bubbling, harmonising “Year Elevens” are outstanding, and the beautiful artistry in set and lighting combinations is superb. Neat, classy lines, squares, rectangles and boxes adorn ceiling, walls and set, ever ready to fill with glorious permutations of bright, vibrant colour.

The seven musicians, clearly visible at first through glassy squares way up high, disappear as the surface turns opaque or glows with colour or projects images of clouds and rooftops. Below, slick, highly choreographed, percussive shunts and smooth rotations turn lines of school desks into brick walls or revolve to unfold the New’s kitchen, night club or school loos. And to adorn Hugo’s glittery drag boutique, Victor’s Secret … mannequins beam down in tubes from above.

As the shop’s owner, Kevin Clifton is warm and down-to-earth while bringing fine vocal and physical pizzazz to Hugo’s alter ego, the sparkling drag queen in glittering finery, Loco Channel. At the Legs Eleven club, where Jamie makes his nervous debut, a larger-than-life extravaganza of three other drag queens also get in on the act – and with plenty of earthy language to boot.

Ivano Turco, long-legged, long-haired and broad-smiling, is the fourth incarnation of Jamie New of Sheffield (rather than being from County Durham like Jamie Campbell). Seven years on from the first onstage Jamie, the public embrace of drag artists and gender identity has moved on a bit and Turco brings us a quietly-spoken Jamie, who, from the start, even at school, is more boldly camp than a schoolboy might have dared be in the past. In spite of set-backs involving inflexible school rules, his ashamed, disgusted father, abusive school bully Dean and hooded thugs with vindictive fists, his bright ambition and optimism always bob right back up thanks to the unflagging support of mum and friends: on he goes in pursuit of his dreams, singing in smooth-voiced tones of climbing The Wall in My Head.

Unlike the father who totally rejects him, Jamie’s dedicated, selfless, ever-loving mum unerringly supports him every high-heeled step of the way. As his understudy mum, Georgina Hagen tunefully reflects on her past in If I Met Myself Again , but the joy of having a wonderful son trumps all as she sings He’s My Boy. Pritti Pasha, Jamie’s loyal friend, confidante and kindred spirit, abused like him for being a weirdo in choosing to wear hijab and enjoy school studies is played warm and sympathetic by understudy Rhiannon Bacchus, while another supportive friend to the News and almost part of the family is Ray. With great singing and comedic charm Sejal Keshwala is a lively, engaging Ray, generously handing out replica brand chocolates like After Sevens and Maltoosers, while more fine singing comes from Sam Bailey as strong, formidable Miss Hedge, the career’s teacher who proposes Jamie be a fork-lift truck driver. As bullying, taunting sexist, racist classmate, Dean, who hounds Jamie and Pritti and calls Jamie’s Mimi Me a minger, Jordan Ricketts conveys a sense that his heart is never really fully into bullying and that, in the end, maybe he’ll be swayed to change his stance a bit.

The direct feeling of raw reality and chemistry of the city’s original Crucible production may be a bit lacking in this stylised telling of Jamie’s story rather than it being an intensely emotional journey, but it’s a tale entertainingly told with lots of exhilarating spectacle, and its message reaches home. We finish with A Place Where we Belong, a place where all our differences can comfortably co-exist and we can be who we are, a place where Jamie is a gay lad who’s no freak or weirdo but just an individual enjoying wearing a nice, white dress for a school prom. And everybody loves that and applauds loudly.

Eileen Caiger Gray