‘Don’t be yourself tomorrow’: Side-splitting West End show is as much brilliant as it is resilient

Shane Richie (Hugo) in Everybody's Talking About Jamie. Photo Johan Persson.
Shane Richie (Hugo) in Everybody's Talking About Jamie. Photo Johan Persson.

The belly laughs at Everybody’s Talking About Jamie were as long as Layton Williams’ leg extensions. Gloriously drawn out and never ending.

Set in working class Sheffield - flamboyant Jamie knows he’s not destined to be the forklift truck driver his careers’ teacher told him to be. Instead he sets his sights high for drag queen stardom - as Mimi Me - where he debuts on stage at Legs Eleven bar.

Through Northamptonshire-born Tom McRae's brilliant storytelling, the show takes emotional twists and turns from start to finish. The 39-year-old television writer from Weedon Bec not only wrote the script but he nailed all the lyrics for the musical too, which debuted in February 2017 in Sheffield and is based on the true story of a 16-year-old drag queen. Tom attended Weedon Bec Primary School and later Campion School in Bugbrooke.

Flamboyant Jamie, who lives on a council estate, is faced head-on throughout the show with bigotry from his classmates, and secondary school teacher, before he seeks artistic help and advice from Shane Richie’s character, Hugo, at the wittily named 'Victor’s Secret' shop. This gag didn't go wasted on the rows of Americans sat front of me.

Layton Williams (Jamie) and the cast of Everybody's Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre. Photo credit Johan Perrson.

Layton Williams (Jamie) and the cast of Everybody's Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre. Photo credit Johan Perrson.

Unlike the rest of the audience, though, they didn’t titter much when Jamie told his co-star Sabrina Sandhu - who plays the understated Pritti Pasha - he used to dress up as Carol Vorderman.

Revived drag queen, Loco Channell (aka Hugo), takes Jamie under his wing and is a guiding light for the youngster who has spent years not knowing how bold and brilliant he really is.

With the help of Ms Channel and the unconditional love of his mum Margaret, the sensational and utterly relatable Rebecca McKinnis, he finds his sparkle when he finally decides on his drag artist name. Jamie takes to the stage dolled up to the nines in his birthday heels - which his mum scrimped to buy - and he gives the bullies a performance to make them quake in their (high-street) boots.

Through the two hour show, it follows the polar opposite relationships the sassy teenager has between his separated mum and dad.

Jamie falls on hard times when his dad disowns him - but his mums’ hysterically funny pal, Ray, played by the talented Sejal Keshwala, is constantly there to pick up the mood of the show making welcomed light of some of the darkest parts. She becomes the dad he never had.

The final hurdle in Jamie’s time at school is being accepted at prom in a dress, albeit toned down from Mimi Me's satin red number. After initially being turned away at the school dance doors by mean Miss Hedge, played by Hayley Tammadon, his friends show solidarity and rally round him to make sure he gets a night to remember.

The casting in this show is immense. Lead Layton Williams is sublime throughout and knows how to make an audience feel relaxed.

His natural comedic ability sent belly laughs roaring through the Apollo auditorium while some of his more stirring scenes brought the three-tier audience to compelled silence.

The ensemble deserve a nod too. It was appreciated that they were given the opportunity to, uniquely, have their own lines and showcase themselves as individuals - which is ultimately the underlying message of the show.

Staging was inventive throughout, songs were a strong toe-tapping level of catchy and I left the theatre feeling better than when I walked in.

The all-singing-all-dancing-spectacle captures all the best bits of British humour and is a must watch for the whole family.

Layton WIlliams (Jamie) and the Ensemble in Everybody's Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre. Photo credit Johan Perrson.

Layton WIlliams (Jamie) and the Ensemble in Everybody's Talking About Jamie at the Apollo Theatre. Photo credit Johan Perrson.