Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at The Apollo Theatre: Noah Thomas is wit, charisma and fearlessness in a pair of candy-red stilettos
Tom Macrae admits to eavesdropping on the upper deck of a London bus for one of the lines used in the show – “I always dress in designer clothes – Nike, Adidas, Pumas, you get me?”
With a sudden start, the pre-show nattering and wrapper rustling of the audience is brought to an acute halt as Miss Hedge (Priya Kalidas) appeals to her class to simmer down. And just like that, we’re sixteen again, shuffling up our seats to sit upright and putting our phones away. It’s time for this class of year elevens to not only think about their future but to also be very real with it.
Based on a true story, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie came into existence by chance when theatre director, Jonathan Butterell was channel-hopping one night and came across the BBC3 documentary, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. Jamie Campbell grew up in a small, former mining village in County Durham – hardly the most glamorous or cosmopolitan backdrop – with his mother. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is the true story “a boy who sometimes wants to be a girl”, growing up in the working-class metropolis, Sheffield. So why is everybody talking about Jamie? Whilst Jamie’s sexuality as a gay boy is not a secret, his ambitions in becoming a drag queen certainly are. Upon meeting drag extraordinaire Hugo, a.k.a the legendary Loco Chanelle (played by the equally illustrious, season six winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Roy Haylock, or as you might know him, Bianca Del Rio) Jamie is immersed into the history of Loco Chanelle and baptised in her gorgeous, red, shimmering dress that will give birth to Jamie’s own alter-ego, Me-me-me. Jamie intends on attending prom night in a dress, a prospect that excites his mum, cheered on by his best mate (and self-anointed fag-hag) Pritti Pasha (Hiba Elchikhe), mocked by his bully, disapproved of by his school and disgusts his father. This musical is a testament to the verve and charisma of the real Jamie, with musical numbers that will have you either clapping along or in the case of the gentleman sat next to me, snapping your fingers in unison to the beat and showering the cast with your clicks like confetti.
Jamie New (Noah Thomas), with his platinum-blonde hair and bright pink socks, unabashedly and flamboyantly stands out from the crowd of his peers. Thomas’ incredible performance shines a light into the crevices of Jamie’s personality. His confidence and creativity jump out at us with every power-strut across the stage in a pair of daring, candy red stilettos with an attitude we admire, and at an altitude that has us experience a sympathetic headiness. However, there is a cherubic fragility to him that makes him vulnerable and not totally immune to the fear of judgment, particularly from his father; Thomas’s natural chemistry with Melissa Jacques (Jamie’s mum) amplifies a tender moment of maternal bliss in which he is sat on one of her knees, sideways, and cradled.
The songs in this musical, by Dan Gillespie Sells (Music and orchestrations) and Tom Macrae (Book and Lyrics), are reflective of the vibrancy, energy, confusion and wonder that pervades our teenage years. The first song, “You Don’t Even Know It”, which is accompanied with Kate Prince’s breath-taking choreography which has students dance on and around their tables, dreaming up their futures, goes down tremendously well with the audience. “The Wall In My Head” and “If I Met Myself Again” will have you biting your lip and swallowing hard on a rising, swollen ball of sorrow. “The Legend of Loco Chanelle (And The Blood Red Dress)” sung by Hugo and the Legs Eleven Girls, is an epic story-within-a-story that has a real Viennese Nights vibe to it.
The fact that this story is rooted in a working-class community is thankfully not airbrushed out, despite the ornate grandeur of the Apollo Theatre. Ray (Sejal Keshwala), a friend of Jamie’s mum, often bears gifts from her trips to the pound shop or the market: After Sevens Chocolates, Mers Bars, Kat Kits and Twox. In the programme, Tom Macrae admits to eavesdropping on the upper deck of a London bus for one of the lines used in the show – “I always dress in designer clothes – Nike, Adidas, Pumas, you get me?” Though it is hugely presumptuous that the London vernacular is replicated in other working-class parts of the country, Macrae has at least not reincarnated Ali G into any of the characters, or haphazardly thrown in a random reference to the totem of urban youth culture, Stormzy (honestly, it’s getting embarrassing). in fact, the writing is culturally sensitive and incredibly well-informed. For instance, Ray greeting Pritti with “Giddah Pritti, Ma-Sha-llah” was a brilliant capture of Sheffield’s diversity and gave us the realness that Miss Hedge was talking about at the very beginning of the show.
The writing is actually pretty tight and incredibly witty. Not only is Jamie a victim of prejudice, but so is his best friend Pritti, who at one point is called a ‘paki’ – a word so crude and raw that it takes the audience aback in a shared moment of horrified silence. And as she too overcomes her bullies and tormentors, with her quick wit and courageous frankness, the audience woos in delight, or in the case of the gentleman sat next to me, sassily snaps his fingers in approval.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will be on at The Apollo Theatre until 29th August 2020.
Photo Credit: Matt Crockett