“Sometimes you’ve got to grab life by the balls
You take those balls and tuck ’em between your legs”
We should be talking about Sheffield, and how its place in the fragile ecosystem of British musical theatre has only become more and more invaluable. Nurturing shows like Flowers For Mrs Harris and This Is My Family into existence and taking pride in their understated nature, the venue has also been incubating new writing talent. Well, new to musical theatre at least, for Dan Gillespie Sells is the lead singer-songwriter of The Feeling and Tom MacRae has written several episodes of Doctor Who and sitcom Threesome. And inspired by a BBC3 documentary, a meeting with director Jonathan Butterell and a fairy godmother-like intervention from Michael Ball, the result is brand spanking new musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
And what a joy it is, a breath of feel-good fresh air that can’t help but leave you feeling fabulous. With career advice flying by unheeded, all 16-year-old Jamie is really bothered about as his school-time comes to an end is whether he will attend the school prom as his drag persona Mimi Me or not. And rather brilliantly, the writing hones in on Jamie just as a young man – yes he’s queer and a kween but he’s also a person still finding out the extent of his identity and how to relate to a wider world that isn’t necessarily always set against him. It’s a refreshing take on LGBT+ storytelling, and a sorely needed one, tipping its hat to the tales of coming out and battling against intolerance that have gone before and then finding its own space to parse the consequences of being this fierce in the real world.
As the precocious Jamie, John McCrea is all kinds of brilliant – as awful as Phi Phi O’Hara, as insightful as Katya Zamolodchikova, with as conflicted a parental relationship as Kim Chi, sometimes all within the same withering line, his is a story that can’t help but pummel you with its poignancy. And that is due to the richness of the world around him and the people in it, superbly written and powerfully performed down to the last. Lucie Shorthouse’s Pritti, Jamie’s Muslim best friend, has her own chrysalis to cast off as she emerges into glorious self-confidence; and Josie Walker (the original Mrs Wormwood lest you forget) is phenomenal as his beautifully supportive mother, always trying to compensate for the father who rejects him.
They, and the company, all deliver the torch songs and impassioned pop of Gillespie Sells’ bright score with real conviction. And MacRae’s script is chock-full of real humour, Charles Dale as Jamie’s drag mother Hugo aka Loco Chanel gets several great lines, “I’ll do your eyebrows, I’ll make you beautiful, and you can borrow some tits from t’tit box” being the one that has stuck in my head. Anna Fleischle’s set design looks like a dream but Kate Prince’s choreography proves a little over-emphatically poppy in a first half that could perhaps do with just a bit of a trim and a tuck. But make no mistake, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is rightly, unashamedly proud of what it is – don’t wait and see if a transfer is in the offing, make the time to go and see it now.