Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the new musical which has just opened at The Apollo Shaftesbury Avenue to generally positive reviews, is as life-affirming, inclusive, and politically correct as you could possibly wish for.
It’s based, or more accurately ‘inspired by’ a documentary Jamie: Drag queen at Sixteen, which tells the true story of Jamie Campbell, a schoolboy from County Durham, who wants to be allowed to go to the school prom in a dress.
The creative team have used the documentary as a jumping off point, turning Jamie Campbell into Jamie New, and relocating the action to Sheffield.
So, is it any good?
Well, yes. Kindasorta, but I have my reservations. It’s superficially enjoyable, but doesn’t satisfy as much as it might.
Drama works on the three questions ‘Whose story is it?’, ‘What do they want?’, and ‘What’s stopping them from getting it?’.
Well, this is clearly Jamie’s story (though he’s by no means the most interesting character in the show. How could he be? At sixteen he hasn’t lived long enough to be interesting), and his very twenty-first century problem is that he wants to go to his school prom in a dress.
What’s stopping him? Well…difficult to say. And that’s a bit of a problem. Where’s the conflict? Certainly nothing in the first half hour of the show would suggest he’s not going to get his dream.
There’s a school bully, who’s nasty, but not really nasty enough to be a serious antagonist (and the writing tantalisingly suggests he’ll end up as love interest for Jamie, but then doesn’t follow through). There’s a teacher who’s bored and has to lead a class of children who don’t want to be there, but she only becomes nasty far too late in the piece, and then there’s the absent father about whom we hear much, and who would have made a great antagonist, but who doesn’t appear until far too late, and then really only as an afterthought. It’s a curiously unsatisfying mix of structural problems which give the show a slight feeling of being ‘undercooked’.
Fortunately the role of Jamie is by turns touching, naïve, gauche, and vulnerable enough in the waif-like persona of John McCrea, that we do at least care about the leading man.
The music is nice-enough but lacks bite for the most part, and as the songs do not, on the whole, further the plot, the show feels strangely static, though Kate Prince’s modern, streetwise choreography does an awful lot to ramp up the energy. This is definitely a show which survives on a surface sheen of fabulousness, but take that away and the underlying lack of craft starts to peep through the glitter.
There is one major exception though. Jamie’s mother Margaret (Josie Walker), has a song half way through Act Two, He’s My Boy, which is the take-away number from a score which otherwise doesn’t have much emotional depth, and in Walker’s hands becomes very nearly a show-stopper.
The British public have a long-standing love of camp, and of drag queens in particular, especially the un-threatening ‘nothing happening below the waist’ sort personified by Jamie, which certainly can’t hinder this show. Personally, I felt far more interested in the character of Hugo Battersby (Phil Nichol) and his drag queen alter ego (and her magical dress transformation which went by so fast it was almost lost). Here was a man, and a drag queen, with a story to tell, and the writers do at least give Jamie a hint of what the future might hold for him in Act One’s ‘The Legend of Loco Chanelle’.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely. It’s a new British musical, and there are few enough of those hitting the West End. Would I go again…that’s a whole other question.