A world premiere of an original musical has opened in Sheffield, writes Alan Payne.
The director, Jonathan Butterell, saw a TV documentary about Jamie Campbell, a young man of 16 who wanted to be a drag queen.
He talked to Daniel Evans, the previous artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, about the idea of making a musical out of Jamie’s story.
The result is Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, a collaborative project bursting with energy and intelligence.
The music is by Dan Gillespie Sells, the lyrics and script by Tom MacRae.
A band of eight musicians are installed in a room with transparent walls at the top of an ingenious and elegant set.
At the centre of the musical is Jamie New, a leggy, brash, sensitive gay young man of 16 – brilliantly played by John McCrea.
The show opens with an explosion of humour and vitality – a classroom scene with Miss Hedge, a careers teacher, taking the lesson.
As with the real Jamie, the fictional Jamie is supported by his mum, Margaret, a wonderfully tender and understated performance by Josie Walker; and by his mum’s female friend, Aaliyah ‘Lee’ Begum.
Jamie’s mum and dad are separated but Jamie hopes that his dad will accept him for who he is. Jamie finds a kind of substitute father figure in Hugo, an aging drag queen who offers to help him fulfil his dream. His closest friend is Pritti Pasha, a devout and serious-minded Muslim young woman. Will the school allow Jamie to attend the end of year ‘prom’ in a dress? Surprise follows surprise.
The show is set in Sheffield, and the many local references are great fun – but the sense of a wider contemporary reality transcends these bounds.
There isn’t a hint of stereotyping. The lyrics and dialogue are witty and inventive. The show is a great plea for tolerance and diversity. The response of the audience was electrifying. There was a standing ovation of a kind one rarely sees in the theatre: acclaim not just for the special roles played by everyone involved, including the real Jamie and his mum, who came onto the stage at the end, but the feeling that this is a show that speaks to our times and will be widely seen in years to come.
Everyone’s Talking About Jamie is on at the Crucible Theatre until Saturday, February 25.