Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 20 January 2024
Following a record-breaking three-year West End residency, sold-out UK & Ireland Tour and Amazon studios award-winning film, the smash-hit and critically acclaimed musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie returns to the region this week.
The show is about a 16 year old lad from Sheffield who is about to finish school. In his final career lesson he wants to state that his dream job is to appear on stage as a drag queen but the career's teacher is keen to tell them to 'keep it real'. In other words to forget their dreams.
Of course, being a 16 year old in school is not the easiest of places to be different in any way. This show is as much about how Jamie New deals with the prejudice from both teachers and fellow students as it is about whether or not he succeeds in his dreams.
This is a great musical and it is easy to see why it is still popular after constant touring in the past couple of years. The set and the props look deceptively simple but they all allow the action, and the tension, to flow. Over the top of this are a talented energetic cast that delivery a special night at the theatre.
At the centre of the action on opening night was understudy Finton Flynn who, like almost every understudy we have ever seen, established themselves as the star of the piece. If you were not prewarned that they were a cover then you would think it was the regular role played. Finton held the attention of the audience and the final standing ovation at the end showed how much the audience appreciated his performance.
Supported Jamie are Rebecca McKinnis and Shobna Gulati as his mother and family friend Ray respectively. They are both the source of the family tension and the light hearted moments in the tale. One of the highlights, for me, though was when Rebecca sang He's My Boy in the second act. A clever song in which a mother both sets out her stall and divulges her emotions. Powerful stuff.
At school Jamie has Pritti has his best friend. Talia Palamathanan helps turn the wannabe Doctor from a fringe character into another person that the audience will care for. On Jamie's travel he comes across shopkeeper Hugo, wo is also a retired drag queen themselves under the name Loco Chanelle. John Partridge give a fine performance as someone who ends up mentoring Jamie to some extent.
In a challenging story like this one there will be characters that annoy the audience. Here is the thing, for me it isn't the school bully Dean( Jordan Ricketts), who is very much the product of his own circumstances. Rather, the one I always feel I need to have a serious word with is the teacher Miss Hedge (Giovanna Fletcher), a single teacher who is delivering a careers lesson one minute and then making disciplinary decisions about the prom the next. I guess it is possible that a head/head of year could also find themselves as a careers teacher but you wouldn't want you child to be taught by one who is so negative about the children in their care. With outdated attitudes, plus the lack of ambition and empathy for those they teach - you really would want your kids to attend this school. I guess for Giovanna to register such strong emotions in me suggests it was a job well done.
In addition to the main protagonists are a supporting cast who sing, dance and sometimes behave really badly. The choreography in the opening school scenes makes full use of the space and sets up the energy levels for the rest of the show.
The set design has the band perched above the action, though sometimes hidden behind parts of the projection screen. Under musical director Danny Belton it is a tight unit that synchronises well with the action down below.
This is, in a nutshell, a great production of a great story. I like the way that the songs push on the emotions and exposition effectively and that the cast appear to enjoy the show as much as the audience.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Matt Crockett
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tue 16 – Sat 20 Jan 2024. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.