Based on the BBC three documentary, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, a brand-new musical is about to burst onto the stage in spectacular, drag-tastic, feel good fashion, in what is described as a “big glittery dream” and which promises to be one of the most talked about musicals for some time.
Everyone’s Talking About Jamie is written by Tom MacRae (Doctor Who) and has music by Dan Gillespie Sells of The Feeling (who are best known for their album Twelve Stops ‘Till Home). The story charts the journey of Jamie Campbell, a Sheffield lad, who has to decide whether to express himself and who he really is by going to the school prom in drag. Packed with humour, emotion, a strong social message and real warmth, the show is set to have its world premiere at Sheffield Theatres on the 9th February 2017.
With a diverse cast, including Mina Anwar (TV’s The Thin Blue Line, Coronation Street, Shameless) playing Leigh; John McRae (Eastenders, The Catherine Tate Show, New Tricks) who plays Jamie and Tasmin Carroll (Eastenders, Heartbreak High) as Miss Hedge, the show explodes with energy, emotion and a coming of age story unlike any other. TGUK caught up with the shows lead actors during a break in rehearsals.
TGUK – Thank you for taking time out from rehearsals to chat to us… how are rehearsals going?
John – Really well, thank you. We’ve been rehearsing down in London for a few weeks and so to finally arrive in Sheffield and rehearse at the Crucible has really reinvigorated the entire team. I’m loving being back in Sheffield and having the opportunity to really get into the role.
Mina – There’s lots of elements to the show, and were just at the production point where were starting to pull everything together. We’ve tended to do isolated scenes so far, and do a little from here and a little from there, but it’s all starting to really come together now we’re here at the Crucible.
John – And from an acting point of view, it’s great to be able to hear the local accents. What’s great about Sheffield is that everyone is so friendly, so you don’t have to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations; you just go up and talk to them.
TGUK – Everyone’s Talking About Jamie is a brand new, contemporary musical – so what can people expect from the show?
Mina – The show is based on the true story of Jamie Campbell, who was the subject of the BBC3 documentary, Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. It’s about Jamie finding himself, not just in who he is as a person, but finding himself and his place in his family and in his community. The story follows Jamie as he decides whether to go to school prom in drag or not, and about him discovering who he is and how he wants to live his life.
John– It’s a proper pop musical, a big glittery dream of a pop musical, but one which people can take a lot from as they leave the theatre. I genuinely think that it speaks to everyone. It speaks to 16-year-olds; it speaks to mothers, to children, to teachers and to anyone who is in contact with young people who are developing their own sense of identity. It is based in Sheffield, but it has a universal message which is wrapped in such brilliant music.
Mina – The music really is important; it has a proper pop vernacular to it which makes it immediately accessible. Some of the music is really moving and speaks immediately to the audience both in terms of lyrics and melody. We’ve also got some terrific dance numbers, Kate Prince, one of the choreographers from Zoo Nation, is working on the show, and she’s fusing styles of hip-hop, street, narrative dance and big production numbers all into this show.
Tasmin – But it’s also about being true to yourself. It doesn’t lend itself just to the message about people being gay, or address just transvestite / transgender issues; it’s about anything in life that people might face, and it’s about being proud and comfortable with the decisions and choices that you make. The key for young people to know is that there are uncertainties out there as you grow up, but that the overall message from the show is ultimately one that is very positive.
TGUK – Whilst it is a coming of age story, there are also a lot of other elements to it. What, to you, is at the heart of the story?
John – It’s about working out who you are and what you want to be. Often what you want to be is so far away and seems almost out of reach, but it’s about how people go about achieving those dreams. The moral of the story is that you don’t get answers from anyone, it’s that you stay on a journey for what you believe in and that you stay true to yourself and to the path that you’ve set out upon
Mina – It’s about finding your place, both in yourself and in your community. It’s set in a small community in Sheffield where self-expression doesn’t really exist, certainly not in the sense that Jamie would wish it did. It’s a story about family; and ultimately is a very human story, that’s what at the heart of it. It’s about whom we would be if we could go back and make choices to please ourselves rather than making choices to please other people
John – But family doesn’t just mean blood, Mina’s character, Leigh, is Jamie’s mum’s best friend so it’s not all about the conventional family. It is the story of a mother and son and about the balance of a tricky, yet love filled relationship; but what it boils down to is that Jamie comes from a single-parent family and he is an only child, so despite the difficulties that he and his mum have at times, there is just the two of them and they rely upon each other. What was clear, having met Jamie (Campbell) and having watched the documentary, he and his mother have an open and honest relationship, he’s not wholly disenfranchised from others, but whilst he is not the coolest kid in school, he always has his mother to go back to.
TGUK – What makes Everyone’s Talking About Jamie different to other coming of age stories?
Mina – It’s not just about sexuality. A lot of coming-of-age stories are about being gay, but with Jamie, not only is he gay, he is bulimic, he is somebody being bullied. He is the protagonist and we follow his story, but in most coming-of-age stories, you often get the conflict between hero and villain, but this show is not really about that.
Tasmin – It’s a really interesting topic, one which is very contemporary and one which is written from the perspective of young people outwards making it easily relatable. It’s not just for young people, it is also for adults. The inclusion of the music and the dance numbers also takes it away from the realms of the usual coming-of-age stories
John – In many of these types of stories, good advice is often given but bad choices are made. This show is different because Jamie has a dream and a clear-cut idea of what he wants, but gets terrible advice which sets him down the path of self-destruction. He already knows what he wants, it is how to achieve it.
Mina – It’s presented on a much more personal level and you see Jamie growing through coming to terms with the challenges he faces. There are so many different elements to it, but the main one is that it is a story about a lad being a Drag Queen, about how he achieves what he wants and about how that impacts not just on him, but on those around him.
TGUK – Given its topic, what do you think the relevance of plays like this are within today’s society?
Tasmin – I have to say, it’s one of the most perfect pieces of new theatre that I’ve been involved with. It’s incredibly topical, the issue of cross dressing, transsexuals, transvestites, it shows how really important those issues are, brings it more into the mainstream. It goes beyond the threshold of “convention” and allows young people to feel that these behaviours are normal. Ultimately, Jamie comes from a place of real love and he’s just trying to work out how to be himself. He is conscious of his feelings and the way in which it impacts on everyone else, but the real message of the play is an enduring message of love. The story is incredibly well told and I’m sure that everybody, not just people of Jamie’s age group, will take something from it.
John – With everything that’s been in the news recently about Trump, women’s equality, issues about gender identity and the issues facing transgendered people, the themes contained in the play are really important. There is a currently a real challenge to the underbelly of Civil Rights on so many fronts and it’s nice to see the empowerment of someone so standing up for themselves and what they believe in and to see that from the perspective of someone so young.
Mina – It is really exciting, it gives a glimpse into a world that people may not know. We are fortunate to have a really diverse cast, all of whom find inspiration in each other. It’s great to be able to take part in such a friendly musical, especially one which is so challenging. What’s unique about it is that it doesn’t necessarily reinforce stereotypes. What we didn’t want was the representation of stereotypes or reinforcement of what people expect to think, rather than what they should actually know. It’s about making unique representations of each individual. It may well enrich people in terms of the story that they don’t know very well; it may touch them by making them recognise a personal struggle that they have had. Whilst the story centres on the personal struggle that Jamie has, it does zoom out and allow people to stand back and look not just at what Jamie is going through, but how the internal struggle that Jamie is facing can be extrapolated onto any struggle that any person is having.
TGUK – Shows like Priscilla and La Cage Au Folles feature stories about drag, but how does Jamie compare with these types of shows and what makes it different?
Mina – I think some of it is to do with the collaboration of those who created it. Dan Gillespie Sells is very knowledgeable of the musical tradition, and writes such instantly accessible songs. Tom Macrae is an experienced TV writer and Jonathan Butterell is a director of some standing. The music has a nod to different styles and to different genres, but nothing is overtly stated and the story seeps out of the script and the music. There are some songs that will make you weep with sadness and there are others which will leave you with a beaming smile – there is the whole gamut of emotion conveyed in the music and the songs are used to progress the story and characters rather than just providing an excuse for a dance number.
Tasmin – I think that the teenage element is really different. It’s not coming from a place of cynicism, it’s coming from the point of view of someone who is starting to experience life, someone who is on the edge of experience. It’s not about someone who’s middle-aged and looking back, either with or without regret, it’s a prelude to the rest of Jamie’s life.
Mina – Absolutely, and in this story, drag is not a novelty. It’s about a struggle, a hero’s struggle, both with himself and with those around him. Jamie’s journey is not there simply to give the hero something to struggle with; it’s a fundamental part of who he is. The story is not just frivolous and sharp, there is a lot of elements where we see things from inside Jamie’s head, it really breaks the fourth wall so you really get a feel for what life is like for Jamie; but all the features come together and balance out so you have a good element of comedy, a real feel good piece of theatre and a serious undertone to the story.
Tasmin – It’s a real talking point. It can be used to open up a dialogue between a young person and other people in their lives, whether it’s their parents, teachers, school friends or anyone. It’s potentially life changing theatre wrapped up in a perfect pop musical.
Everyone’s Talking About Jamie premieres at Sheffield Theatres on the 9th February 2017 and runs until 25th February 2017. For tickets and information visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000. You can also follow Sheffield Theatres on Facebook (@shefftheatres) and Twitter (@crucibletheatre).
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.