Brighton Year-Round 2021
Directed by Matt Ryan (Resident Director Cameron Johnson), 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, Costumer Supervisor Sven Lehmpfuhl, Wigs Hair and Make-up Supervisor Jessica Plews, Props Supervisor Mary Mallory, Production Manager Patrick Malony General Managers Laurence Miller and Susanne Noble.
Band: Hannah Corcoran, Dan Hall, Gareth Lieske, Will Smith, Dave Stewart, Owen Williams.
Original Direction by Jonathan Butterell. Inspired by the original Firecracker documentary Jamie Drag Queen at 16.
Till January 2nd.
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.
And because of covid delays, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie plays here in the huge festive slot instead, till January 2nd. Don’t even think about missing it.
Like tonight’s star who’s played 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.
Layton Williams’ Jamie blasts in with no hang-ups about being gay, but can’t really show off his high heels in class. It’s about how he 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? Williams has a terrific voice, acts like a sinewy dream with true feeling too, and his only challenge is a last ounce of clarity in diction. He’s a completely believable Jamie.
Obstacles to prance? There’s George Sampson’s mean bully Dean Paxton but Jamie’s immune to all but a later plot. More supportively there’s Sharan Phull’s enchanting Priti Pasha, bound for Cambridge to read Medicine, and Jamie’s bestie. She’s the one who encourages, pulls back and worries for Jamie throughout. Phull’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 Amy Ellen Richardson, 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 wholly melting. There’s terrific support too from Shobna Gulati’s Ray, the sassy sometimes sexy bestie of Margaret who supports them both. 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, Bianca del Rio/Roy Haylock’s emporium. This is an actor in either persona who lights up a stage in two wholly different parts. Of course he’s been the greatest drag queen, at least he says so and you sort of 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 James Gillan’s Laika Virgin, Cameron Johnson’s Sandra Bollock, Rhys Taylor’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 Lara Denning’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. Denning navigates from some sympathy to baddie to reconcilement deftly. It’s a tricky part. Marlon G Day 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 find out 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: Richard Appiah-Sarpong’s Cy, Simeon Beckett’s Levi (also Swing Captain), Kazmin Borrer’s Vicki, Ryan Hughes’ Mickey, Zarah Jones’ Bex, Jodie Knight’s Fatimah, Talia Palamathanan’s Becca, Adam Taylor’s Sayid, Alex Hetherington, Emma Robotham-Hunt both Swing, and Lisa-Marie Holmes.
Directed by Matt Ryan (Resident Director Cameron Johnson), 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 not overwhelming, so you can hear how beautifully neat the orchestrations by Dan Gillespie Sells are – the brass interjections out of cool jazz as well as funk.
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 title song edging into hit mode; there’s no duds here at all. Lyrics are sharp, apposite, funny. This touring production is every bit as satisfying and finished as its West End run. It deserves its month here in Brighton, home of drag, home of everything alternative and freedom-blasting. You don’t need persuading, do you?