Everybody’s Talking About Jamie review – joyous teen drag musical

Crucible, Sheffield
The drama lacks oomph but sheer exuberance carries this coming-of-age tale by Tom MacRae and Dan Gillespie Sells

The school’s psychometric test identifies 16-year-old Jamie as a potential forklift truck operator. He, however, dreams of drag-queen stardom, in this new musical based on the true-life subject of a 2011 BBC documentary. Although openly gay, and able to handle the class bully’s homophobic taunts with aplomb, Jamie is nervous about revealing to fellow pupils his preference for high heels and frock over blazer and trainers. John McCrea’s Jamie, trying to uncover the self he feels he could become, is a butterfly fighting free of its chrysalis – fragility tempered by toughness, possibility struggling towards actualisation. It’s a masterly performance.

Jamie is not alone in finding that the biggest obstacle to fulfilment is, in the words of a key song, The Wall in My Head. Other characters also negotiate the distance between the outside world and their inner selves – his best friend and classmate, Pritti, unfashionably studious and religious (Lucie Shorthouse); his divorced mother, loving and supportive Margaret, longing for lost romance (Josie Walker); and retired drag queen Hugo (Charles Dale), weaving fantasy into reality to make it bearable. Jamie’s particular story meshes with wider experiences.

Lyrics and book are by screenwriter and author Tom MacRae. Each scene is finely contrived, but overall the drama lacks oomph. Support for Jamie heavily outweighs opposition, and the external obstacles to his self-realisation are illustrated rather than actually worked through in action. The relation between Jamie and his distant, antagonistic father (Spencer Stafford), in particular, is thinly developed.

Don’t Even Know It from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

That said, this is still a touching, funny and joyous production. Jonathan Butterell’s direction seamlessly intermingles robust humour with insightful sensitivity. If the drama occasionally flags, the performances certainly don’t. The music, by Dan Gillespie Sells (of chart-topping band the Feeling), ranges from brightly energetic pop-rock to gutsy soul ballad. Kate Prince’s choreography deftly conveys the teenage mix of gawkiness and cockiness, while Joshua Carr’s lighting shades meanings within song lyrics and Anna Fleischle’s grid-based, fluid set wittily contrasts constraint and exuberance.

At the Crucible, Sheffield until 25 February


Clare Brennan

The GuardianTramp

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