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Brighton Year-Round 2023

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Nica Burns Ian Osborne T C Beech

Genre: Comedic, Contemporary, Costume, LGBTQ+ Theatre, LGBTQIA+, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, Musical Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton


Low Down

This touring production deserves its fortnight here in Brighton, home of drag, home of everything alternative and freedom-blasting. You don’t need persuading, do you?

Directed by Matt Ryan (Resident Director Georgina Hagen), Designer Anna Fleischle, Choreography Kate Prince, Lighting Designer Lucy Carter, Sound Designer Paul Groothuis, Video Designer Luke Halls, Orchestrations by Dan Gillespie Sells, Musical Supervisor Theo Jamieson, Musical Director Benjamin Holder, Orchestral Manager Richard Weeden, Casting Director Will Burton CDG

Associate Choreographer Danielle Lcointe aka Rhimes, Associate Director and Choreographer (UK Tour) Shiv Rabheru, Associate Designer Liam Bunster, Associate Lighting Designer Sean Gleason, Associate Sound Designer Simon King, Associate Video Designer Zakk Hein, Costume Supervisor Sven Lehmpfuhl, Wigs Hair and Make-up Supervisor Jessica Plews, Props Supervisor Mary Mallory, Company Manager Sharon Spiers, Production Stage Manager James Ingram

Band: Danny Belton, Dan Hall, Adam Smith, Mathew Billups, Jack Fawcett, Robert Greenwood, James Higginson, Claire Shaw

Original Direction by Jonathan Butterell. Inspired by the original Firecracker documentary Jamie Drag Queen at 16.

Till November 11th.


It’s back. So Jonathan Butterell saw a documentary Jamie Drag Queen at 16 in 2011 and Daniel Evans then directing at the Sheffield Crucible told him to find some musical collaborators – and Michael Ball no less obliged. Thus Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacCrae make up the trio of this latest northern musical broadside.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie plays here two weeks. Don’t even think about missing it. With its mix of joyous camp and raw emotion, of maternal affirmation and friendship so fiercely loyal the F-word comes as the most unexpected yes you’ll hear in a musical.

Like Billy Elliot you’ll see something of that, and since a mother there is what’s crucially lacking, the real story of Jamie suggests an intense mother-son bond, so in that moment Blood Brothers comes to mind. In mood it’s more Billy Elliot, but here the one unreconciled character is the absent dad.

With Layton Williams now on Strictly, Ivano Turco’s Jamie – he’s the fourth-  has the advantage of being a wonderful dancer and bringing more naturalism to the part. The disadvantage is a lack of heft in the great opening number. This Jamie breezes rather than blasts in with no hang-ups about being gay, though can’t yet really show off his high heels in class.

It’s about how Jamie can prance the prance that’s going to get us all swaying with him. His doubts, his sudden lurches forward. He’s lucky in finding total acceptance from his mother and her great friend, but how can you say out loud “I want to be a drag queen” to your careers advisor? Turco has a fine voice, acts like a sinewy dream with true feeling too (an added touch of vulnerability is particularly appealing); and – like Williams – his only challenge is a last ounce of clarity in diction. He’s a completely believable Jamie.

Diction (and this is true of some others) isn’t ideal on this first night, but sound adjustments will make all the difference.

Obstacles to prance? There’s Jordan Rickett’s mean bully Dean Paxton but Jamie’s immune to all but a later plot. More supportively there’s Talia Palamathanan’s enchanting Pritti Pasha (she’s also Swing Captain, and took the smaller part of Becca previously), bound for Cambridge to read Medicine, and Jamie’s bestie. She’s the one who encourages, pulls back and worries for Jamie throughout. Palamathanan’s voice is crystalline, appealing: you can hear every word and inflection. One gesture leaves us in no doubt about her feelings, but she’s always known the score.

Jamie’s powerhouse is his Mum Margaret – played by Rebecca McKinnis, who sings hauntingly in her solo numbers:  ‘If I met Myself Again’ and nailingly ‘He’s My Boy’ as well as the duet with Jamie ‘My Man, Your Boy’ which is melting. Like Turco, McKinnis’ voice can be a little drowned and McKinnis currently needs to push hers, so there’ll be adjustments from sound designers (possibly Associate Simon King).

There’s terrific support too from Shobna Gulati’s Ray, the sassy  sometimes sexy bestie of Margaret who supports them both. Gulati deeply impressed last time and returning has only enriched her role. It’s a jewel of a part and Gulati sings beautifully too.

But it’s that next stage and Jamie finds it in the magnificent Hugo or Loco Chanelle, John Partridge’s emporium. This is an actor in either persona who lights up a stage in two wholly different parts, with the strongest performance of all. Vocally s/he centres everything with a thrilling cut-through. Of course he’s been the greatest drag queen, at least he says so and you believe him.

From being mordantly friendly, with no ulterior motive, he becomes the father when Hugo, that Jamie never had. He loans him his great red dress, that gets paid for mysteriously later so Jamie can keep it. More, he coaches Jamie and gives him his first break where he can go on as warm up to Legs Eleven, the great drag show with Ky Kelly (Anthony Gyde)’s Laika Virgin, Garry Lee’s Sandra Bollock, David McNair’s Tray Sophisticay: they’re differently uproarious and Jamie’s found his world.

The twists of this not overly complex plot are easy to see, difficult for Jamie to navigate. You don’t expect Hayley Tamaddon’s Miss Hedge to become suddenly quite as oppositional, if not as hostile as she does for a while. Nor to endorse a nasty homophobic complaint. Tamaddon navigates from some sympathy to baddie to reconcilement deftly. It’s a tricky part.

Ashkay St Clair making a lean mean job as Jamie’s Dad appears only once with Margaret who still holds a candle for the one man she ever loved, even though he has a younger woman already pregnant and is living with her. And a harrowing scene where Jamie doorstops him to learn a terrible truth.

But there’s Hugo, whether giving him a blast when Jamie’s chickening out, or jumping on three homophobes who attack Jamie in the nick of time. Hugo and Loco Chanelle have Jamie’s back: psychically almost.

And there’s the class, mostly behind Jamie and at the end overwhelmingly so for the climactic scene: Joshian Angelo Omana’s Cy, Luca Moscardini’s Levi, Liv Ashman’s Vicki, Thomas Walton’s Mickey, Jessica Daugirda’s Bex, Rhiannon Bachus’s Fatimah, Annabelle Laing’s Becca, Jeoff Beresford’s Sayid, Takaiyah Bailey and Georgina Hagen (also Resident Director) both Swing

Directed by Matt Ryan (Resident Director Georgina Hagen), as if it’s out of school the whole time but eddies beautifully in the soul numbers, the pace never falters over its  two hours thirty-five minutes (including interval). This is inevitably down to the tight exuberant choreography of Kate Prince, also capable of soft flowing edges as the moods and shifts alternate like teenage passions.

Designer Anna Fleischle is known for her sophisticated sets and the use of plate glass and neon lighting on occasion. This is a small masterpiece. With upstage a two-tier glass structure on which video designer Luke Halls’ images get a workout, the band resides above, and below we have turnstiles of kitchen revolving into view out of blank glass which otherwise evokes anything from school room through various interiors to outdoor slum.

There’s a similar overhead and side panels with neon and other lighting built in. Lucy Carter’s lighting deepens this as you’d expect in soft violets and then psychedelic explosions. Mostly there’s a simple reflective white reflecting domestic or bleak outdoor settings. Sound Designer Paul Groothuis ensures the sound’s (mostly) not overwhelming, so you can hear how beautifully neat the orchestrations by Dan Gillespie Sells are –brass interjections out of cool jazz as well as funk. The band led by Danny Belton is terrifically characterful too.

Not only a heartwarming musical, firecracking with energy, youth and sheer passion, Jamie is first-rate storytelling based on but not bound to its original. It’s also tender, allowing the depth of feeling between Margaret and Jamie to flow freely, despite their confrontations and tantrums on Jamie’s part.

It’s one of those rare new musicals with truth at its core, and that’s not because of it being based on fact. The music’s quite memorable with the opening number edging into hit mode and the title song coming a strong second. Lyrics are sharp, apposite, funny, and sound should have adjusted to clarity by the second night.

This touring production deserves its fortnight here in Brighton, home of drag, home of everything alternative and freedom-blasting. You don’t need persuading, do you?