Benet Catty Productions

Everybody\'s Talking About Jamie (WE 2018)

Sep 1, 2018

Apollo Theatre

Musicals tend to be based on movies, novels or songbooks. Everybody’s Talking about Jamie, which has been a surprise hit since opening in the West End last autumn, is based on a BBC3 documentary about a gay teenager in Durham, Jamie Campbell, who wanted to wear a dress to his school prom, wasn’t allowed to, and then was. It’s a simple story (I’ve just told you all of it) but a touching one which encompasses the basic theme of any stage musical: the struggle to be oneself.

Now relocated to Sheffield and with the protagonist’s surname changed to New (I suspect because the characterization is new; it’s not a show which embraces nuance), the songs are provided by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae and have a contemporay pop vibe to them which adds to the initially surprising but quite pleasing realization that no other musicals that I’m aware of have characters taking selfies or calling each other “mingers”. If Educating Yorkshire is ever given a stage treatment it will be like this.

The star of the show, John McCrea, has an easy camp winsomeness and an air of authenticity. Jamie may be the hero but he’s at times thoroughly irritating and McCrea doesn’t try to make him a hero. The fact that we never once doubt that he’ll succeed is not his fault. Like everyone in the present cast, however, his singing is sufficient rather than dazzling. Only Lucie Shorthouse as his best friend Pritti Pasha really has the singing voice to match the acting performance and she is the treat of the show. Rebecca McKinnis as his mother, replacing Josie Walker who opened in the show to great acclaim, is understated but warm and sings her big song “He’s My Boy” well.

The trouble with Jamie as a character is that he is quickly all dressed up (in heels) with nowhere to go. The trouble with Jamie as a show is much the same. We’re told moments into the show’s 2 hours 40 minutes that he wants to wear a dress to the prom. We establish that there’s a nasty piece of work in his class, Dean Paxton, who attempts to bully him for being gay but about which Jamie doesn’t care much, so Luke Baker in the role is left saying the same things to the same (lack of) effect every half hour for the rest of the evening. Jamie’s mum is cool with her son being gay, so apart from a row later on in which he says (Hollyoaks fans will be impressed by the writing) “No wonder dad left you” there’s not much drama there. And dad, inevitably, is absent, intolerant and bald. Yes really. He’s not, as far as we’re told, an alcoholic which is a shame as that would have completed my game of Cliché Bingo.

So nothing much happens in the first half, and then it happens all over again in the second half. One dramatic opportunity – Jamie performing at a drag club after a long nervous wait – we never see. Nor do we spend any time at the prom. As such the narrative could be written out in full on the back of a postage stamp. It is resolutely a two-hour show, here expanded to being not much shorter than Les Miserables or Hamilton.

Director Jonathan Butterell serves the writers very well, though, on Anna Fleischle’s ingenious neon-lined set, and the dances by Kate Prince (the brilliant choreographer of ZooNation) are complex and exciting and easily the highlights of the over-long evening.

If the show is a little childish, cheesy and cliched, this is not altogether a bad thing. Not all shows have to be sophisticated (like Hamilton), or emotional (like Phantom), or complicated (like Les Miserables) or outlandish (like Bat Out of Hell). Middle of the Road is a nice way to spend an evening and Jamie is a pleasant if unchallenging evening out, most likely to appeal to teenagers who wouldn’t be seen dead at The King and I or 42nd Street. It’s got less story and fewer good songs than Kinky Boots but it’s better written and less pretentious.

Jamie just wants to be himself; the show just wants to be like a lot of other much better shows. There’s a message in there somewhere about originality being its own reward. Now that would be worth everybody talking about.

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