Saturday, August 13

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Liverpool Empire

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and at this particular performance they were also taking selfies with the real-life Jamie who happened to be sat next to us at the Empire. That said, we can’t guarantee this will be your experience (in fact, chances are it won’t be…), so what did we think of the actual show?

Well, despite the show being everywhere right now thanks to the movie adaptation, I had deliberately avoided as much about it as possible, so I could see the musical without any preconceptions and I’m so glad I did. What a wonderful, heartfelt, motivational a piece of theatre. Broadway musicals have all the glitz and glamour but there is something about the witty writing of a British musical that just feels like a warm hug in a mug of Yorkshire tea.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The show follows sixteen-year-old Jamie (played gloriously by Layton Williams) as he discovers who he is, in the way that anyone who has ever been through those formative years can totally relate, but as Ray (the hilarious Shobna Gulati) so astutely puts – Jamie knows who he is so much better than most of us. Based on the true story of Jamie Campbell, who rose to fame as part of a BBC documentary after causing a stir at his school by wanting to wear a dress to prom and become a drag queen at 16.

Williams has a magnetism and charisma that makes him instantly likeable, and his comedic delivery was impeccable, leaving the audience eating out of his hand. That said, the cast around him were *chef’s kiss*. The incredible love emanating from his beautifully supportive Mum Margaret was played so perfectly raw and believable by Amy Ellen Richards. In fact, her solo songs were the stand-out musical moments of the show for me, as they were delicate vignettes of emotion. It felt as though the songs that happened while Jamie was on stage were written from his point of view, with the lyrical genius of a 16-year-old, whereas there was a more mature vulnerability from the numbers from Margaret’s point of view.

Credit : Johan Persson

Ray (Gulati) was the comedic gem of the show, giving even the camp, one-line innuendos from Jamie a real run for their money. Ray felt so familiar and warm, the Auntie that isn’t related to you, but with the fierceness and love that comes from chosen family.

As much as the show is about Jamie and his journey, his best friend Pritti Pasha, played exquisitely by Sharan Phull, has a similar narrative of acceptance and self-love, but from an entirely different angle. In fact, the unlikely friendship is a wonderful thread and their relationship, albeit one of opposites attract, is so believable and powerful. Phull has a fantastic voice and some really stunning moments.

I can’t think of another show that has a Muslim lead (with a Hindu name), let alone two girls in hijabs, and it is fantastic to see such a perfectly diverse cast – after all, the show is set in Sheffield and the representation is so important.

Quite often when teens are in shows, the dialogue can feel clunky and awkward, written by someone who hasn’t been a teen in some time. That said, the classroom scenes in Jamie were savagely relatable, to the point that I almost felt sorry for Miss Hedge, played by Lara Denning. The writing really was spectacular, and even the recent Covid reference additions, which could easily have felt cringe-worthy and shoe-horned, were perfectly pitched.

Of course, a huge star of the show is the electric Hugo/Loco Channel, played by Roy Haylock, AKA Bianca Del Rio. Haylock is so sharp with wit but with a wise, warmth that radiates from the stage and a voice full of power. You can only catch Haylock in Liverpool, Hull, Brighton & Southampton on this tour, but Shane Richie will be reprising the role on the other dates.

As a staging nerd, the set for this show was outstanding, using moving blocks, minimal set pieces and digital projections to really transport us to the grey streets of Sheffield. This effect was slightly spoilt somewhat near the end of the first act where one of the drapes didn’t quite come down correctly, so the projection was only on one half – not ideal. Speaking of tech, the sound in the Empire can often feel not quite balanced and there were times when this was the case once more.

My only real criticisms were that some of the songs felt a little basic lyrically (although perhaps that was a deliberate choice, after all Jamie is only 16) and there were a few moments where the vocals were less than perfect – but this was always made up for by sheer enthusiasm. But other than that, what a fantastic, heart-warming, bum-shaking romp. A whole load of fun.

You can catch Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Liverpool Empire until the 27th November.

Reviewer: Codie Wright

Reviewed: 23rd November 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★