Thanks to Wales Millennium Centre for providing complimentary press tickets in return for this review
Barely a minute into the first musical number of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and my friend and theatre companion for the night whispers to me, “This is going to be good”.
And she’s right. In fact, more than right. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – which opened at Wales Millennium Centre last night (Monday) and runs until Saturday – is more than good. It’s funny, emotional, serious, awareness raising, diverse, packed full of rousing chorus numbers and moving ballads, and features so many strong performances, it thoroughly deserves its standing ovation at the end.
The musical tells the story of 16-year-old schoolboy Jamie who wants to be a drag queen and wear a dress to his school prom. It’s based on a true story which featured in the 2011 TV documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 (which I remember watching at the time). The documentary caught the eye of local theatre producers who wanted to turn it into a musical, with lyrics coming from Dan Gillespie Sells, frontman of The Feeling, and words from writer Tom MacRae (Doctor Who), before transferring to the West End. It’s now on its UK tour, which was cut short just a few weeks after opening in 2020 due to the pandemic, arriving in Cardiff a good 18 months later than planned.
It would have been very easy to turn Jamie’s story into a kitsch or sugar-coated version of the events – but the show is all the more stronger because it doesn’t do this. Not all the character relationships resolve neatly and Jamie himself isn’t without his flaws. The bullying Jamie and best friend Pritti – a Muslim girl who wants to become a doctor in a class where everyone else wants to be a YouTuber or footballer – receive is tough to watch. It all feels gritty and real.
Much of this is down to Layton Williams, who is perfect in the role of Jamie. Whether he’s strutting around in ridiculously high heels or arguing with his mum, he makes it all look so effortless, like he was born to play this part. Sharan Phull as Pritti is a delight – and how wonderful to see a musical lead, as well as one of the chorus members too, wearing hijabs. The chorus of year 11 children are a lively and diverse bunch, with some fun musical numbers, most notably gossiping after Jamie’s debut at the local drag night in the title song Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
I loved the rapport between Amy Ellen Richardson as Jamie’s mother Margaret and Shobna Gulati as her best friend Ray, both unequivocally accepting of Jamie’s true self and supporting of his dreams. Richardson’s solo He’s My Boy is, for me, one of tonight’s musical highlights, despite it not being one of my favourites on the soundtrack. This is testament to Richardson who packs so much emotion into the lyrics; although being his mum isn’t easy, she loves him unconditionally and will be heartbroken when he eventually leaves home.
Jamie finds a mentor in the form of Hugo, owner of a dress shop for drag queens but better known as Loco Chanelle, the infamous drag queen with a wonderful back story that makes for a brilliantly-staged musical number. Shane Richie is playing the part on the tour. However, last night was Shane’s night off so we were treated to Bridgend’s own Rhys Taylor. The man sat next to me said he’d seen the musical four times, including once with Richie and actually preferred Taylor in the role. Now obviously I can’t compare, but Rhys was brilliant and it’s safe to say we definitely weren’t being short-changed on opening night with the alternative.
The stage show has an age guidance of 14+ and I’ve had a few people ask whether it’s suitable for children younger than that. I think the answer depends on the child. Although my two eldest children (aged nearly 12 and 10) have watched and very much enjoyed the film version of the musical on Amazon Prime, I opted not to take them last night, and that was the right decision for us. But I did see children of similar ages nearby. Being very familiar with the soundtrack and having read previous reviews, I knew there were quite a few risqué moments with some quite crude (although very funny) sexual references that I felt weren’t quite appropriate. The film has toned these down, giving it a 12 rating, but there were a few moments in the musical that I felt weren’t quite suitable for my children.
I guess it’s an excuse to see this brilliant show again in a few years time.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, until Saturday 20 November. Limited availability for tickets but it’s worth asking at the Box Office for any last-minute ticket returns due to Covid. Book online here
If you like musicals, then look out for Grease (22-27 November), Heathers the Musical (30 November to 4 December), and Beauty and the Beast (9 December-15 January). More information on these and other musicals on their way to Cardiff here.