Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – and so they should in this most modern of musicals which doesn’t shy away from tackling issues of gender identity, racism and mental well-being.
It’s one of the first large-scale productions to be held at the theatre as it’s raised its curtain post-pandemic and it’s a fitting way to come back with a bang.
It’s the kind of story-telling which we’ve all missed in lockdown, a collective experience that resonates far beyond the stage with its empowering message of self discovery, whilst also being thoroughly good entertainment.
Spawned from the 2011 BBC documentary about County Durham teenager Jamie Campbell and his determination to wear a dress to prom, the musical has a much stronger plot than most, to which the cast really do justice. The musical version is set in Sheffield, but it still retains the Northern grit that forms an important thread of the story.
Stepping into the stilettos of the eponymous role is Layton Williams as Jamie. I last saw him on stage in Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, but he’s just as skilled an actor as he is a dancer and you can’t help but instantly warm to him as he finds his way in the world.
As you’d expect from such a talented dancer, his physical acting is also a joy to watch as Jamie struts his way to self acceptance amidst the schoolyard taunts – he and his high kicks even manage to make putting a wheelie bin out look glam.
But he isn’t the only star of the show. Shane Richie is also brilliant as Hugo / Loco Chanelle, a veteran drag queen who encourages Jamie to put on his first frock and believe in himself. The scene between him and Jamie in his clothes shop is one of the best in the production: funny, warm and thought-provoking with some cracking comic timing to boot.
Jamie’s mum, Margaret, played by Amy Ellen Richardson, and her unwavering support for her son, is also hugely likeable with track He’s My Boy really tugging on the heartstrings.
Her best friend Ray is also brought to life spectacularly by former Coronation Street actor Shobna Gulati, who’s the kind of cheerleader we could all do with in our lives.
Meanwhile, Jamie’s best friend Pritti, played by Sharan Phull, is also an endearing, inspiring character who is defiant in the face of discrimination.
Complementing the direction, book and lyrics by Jonathan Butterell and Tom Macrae is music by Dan Gillespie Sells, best-known as the frontman of The Feeling, who’s created some really classy songs executed brilliantly by the live band who are situated above the stage in plain sight instead of being hidden in the pit.
They help take the audience on a real journey, one that had everyone on their feet, whether in heels or not, for the effervescent finale.
:: Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday, October 30.