Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
UK Tour, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 3rd to 7th March.
Inspired by the 2011 television documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 and debuting at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in 2017, Everybody’s Talking about Jamie is the life affirming musical telling the story of Jamie New who wants to attend his high school prom in a glamourous Drag Queen outfit only to be met by Hate, confrontation from those who should love him and a new understanding of the relationship between himself and his mother.
Following an award winning transfer to the west end, a production which is still running, this year see’s the show receive its first ever UK Tour! and Jamie finally comes to Edinburgh and its beautiful Festival Theatre Edinburgh. Ahead of the opening Layton Williams who plays Jamie, fresh from his run in the Apollo Theatre, London spoke with Scotsgay Arts!
For people who are new to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, how would you sum up the storyline?
Jamie is based on a real character who was the subject of a documentary on BBC Three. I remember watching it years ago and it was about him wanting to be a drag queen and wanting go to the school prom in a dress and how his mum Margaret supported him. When he got there there was all this hoo-hah, the teachers wouldn’t let him in, then something wonderful and unexpected happened, his school mates refused to go in without him. The basics of his story inspired the musical and it’s been given a bit of theatrical razzamatazz. Our story is about a 16-year-old boy who wants to be a drag queen and it’s about his relationship with his parents – including his dad, who he isn’t much in touch with. It’s about Jamie finding himself and his drag persona and, without giving anything away, what happens when he does eventually go to the prom.
What do you see as the key themes?
It’s about acceptance. This is a show for everyone, especially for today. It’s not just for people who are into RuPaul’s Drag Race and stuff like that. The show is about a boy finding his path in life with the help of his close relationship with his incredible mum and her unconditional love for him. She loves him exactly as he is. A dad who isn’t supportive and lots of other characters that people will be able to relate to. It’s about family, friendship, trust and support. There are so many different, relatable characters in it – [laughs] although if you identify with the dad then have a word with yourself! And there’s so much diversity in the cast. The real Jamie is white and I’m not, but that wasn’t even a question for the producers and creatives – which is so refreshing and so fab, like just ‘He’s right for the role’ and that’s how it should be. Oh, and there are high heels, high kicks, drag queens, beautiful dresses, feather boas, some fantastic songs and brilliant dancing. It really is fun, funny and fabulous with a lump in your throat and a little tear.
How important is the theme of inclusion to audiences both young and old?
Very important. I get messages from older people who have been helped by the show, whether it’s helped them come out or helped them understand their children better. It does obviously speak directly to the LGBTQ+ youth but it’s not limited to one faction. So many people can relate to being an outcast or feeling different but after seeing the show they’ll feel, to quote one of the songs, there’s a place where they belong. It didn’t happen to me personally but our director [Jonathan Butterell] said when he was doing the show in Sheffield a guy came up to him, grabbed his arm and said ‘I was Dean once’ – referring to the school bully character. Some people in the audience will maybe see the Dean character and think ‘That was me’ or they might see the dad and think ‘I was homophobic’ or they’ll go ‘Everybody is celebrating this boy here so why do I have these negative feelings?’ They might get dragged to the theatre by their girlfriends or wives, thinking ‘Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?’ then hopefully by the end of it their hearts and minds will have been opened and their opinions on things have changed.
What challenges does the role of Jamie present?
It’s about the emotional journey he has to go on. Eight times a week I’m having an argument with this person, bonding with that one, having to cry about this, having to cry about that… The rollercoaster of emotions is a lot to navigate. Being 16 years old is hard. I remember being 16 with all those hormones and stuff. There’s the acting side of all that, then there are so many songs. I have to keep my voice tight and right. That’s the difficulty – keeping myself on top form all the time so when I get out on stage I slay it. I want people to have the best experience possible and that means I have to be in full health, make sure I’m rested and always prepared. That’s the nature of the job but that’s what makes it exciting because you put your whole self out there on stage.
Having played Angel in Rent this isn’t your first time in heels, is it?
No, it isn’t. [Laughs] The heels thing is a doddle now.
Do you know the real Jamie and have you based your performance on him?
Yes, I know Jamie Campbell, he’s a really lovely guy. I rewatched the documentary once I got the part. There a few things he does, like a few little dance moves, that I’ve put into the show. And with him as a person, I take some of his isms and personality traits. On the surface he might come across as someone who is really confident and fab and out-there, but as with lots of people you don’t really know what’s going on behind closed doors. There’s so much vulnerability to him. That’s something I don’t necessarily have myself. I’m always getting notes from the director about tapping into Jamie’s vulnerability. I try to stay as true to him and his story as I can because I want to do it justice. I want everyone who comes to see the show to not just get this fierce, fully-formed teenager who’s got everything sorted because then it’d be like ‘So what’s this story about?’ If I came out in the opening number And You Don’t Even Know It like ‘Bam! I’ve got this!’ then the audience would just go ‘He seems fine, what’s the point of the story?’
Does the show resonate for you on a personal level?
Yes it does. I’m a queer boy from a council estate up North, so we have that in common. Me and my mum have had our moments in the past and sometimes on stage I’m thinking about the things we’ve been through. We always patch things up but families go through stuff. And my upbringing wasn’t rosy. As I say, I was a gay boy on a council estate and as much as I tried to hide it I had a few things coming my way. It’s not been the easiest ride but I put it into my art.
What’s your favourite musical number in the show and why?
And You Don’t Even Know It is fab because it’s the opening number and I get to sing and dance and do it all. Then I love the closing number Out Of The Darkness because I have my microphone in my hand and I feel like a real popstar.
What are you most looking forward to about taking Jamie on tour?
It’s about giving people the opportunity to see it who might not necessarily be able to because travelling to London is too expensive. When I was a musical-theatre-loving kid I couldn’t have afforded to get on a train and come to London. We’re bringing the show to a whole new audience and changing their opinions and perspectives and lives, hopefully. I know it sounds super-dramatic when you say it like that but we’re coming to their doorstep telling our story. It’s great that Shane Richie and Shobna Gulati from the West End cast are also with me.
Is there one thing you couldn’t be on the road without?
My suitcases full of outfits and things for my dressing room, like my dolls and cards full of love and my artwork. I have to put them all out so when I come into the room I feel the love and the energy.
How hard do you think it will be to say goodbye to Jamie when the tour ends?
I can’t even think about it to be honest. I’ll have been playing this part for a good year and a half and I’ve loved every single second of it. All good things have to come to an end and I’m sure there are many more amazing opportunities waiting for me in the future but this will be something I will never forget. It’s been a life-changing job.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie makes its Scottish Debut in Edinburgh but will also visit Aberdeen and Glasgow later in the year! grab those ticket before they sell out and discover just why everybody is really talking about Jamie!
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Tuesday 3rd to Saturday 7th March, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/everybodys-talking-about-jamie