Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

AT 9pm on Wednesday July 20th 2011 BBC three put out a documentary directed and produced by Jenny Popplewell entitled Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, which to put it mildly raised more than a few eyebrows. Narrated by Jill Halfpenny it followed the story of County Durham schoolboy Jamie Campbell, who after coming out as gay two years previously decided to attend the school prom in a dress.

It took six years from the screening of that documentary to, with the help of writer and lyricist Tom MacRae and composer Dan Gillespie Sells, for the story, based very much on true life, to find its way onto the stage as a musical. After a successful opening at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre the show had to do battle with homophobic opposition, and the Covid epidemic as it tried to establish itself in London’s West End.

Not only has it won those battles but now as it embarks on a second countrywide tour, you can see it this week at Bristol Hippodrome and at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal from 1st to 6th April,, it has acquired a large loyal following as supportive of Jamie’s efforts to best the school authorities and become a Drag Queen, as his determined loving single-parent mother, played in this production in a heart-wrenching manner by Rebecca McKinnis. To add to a excellent dramatic input she delivers He’s My Boy in show stopping style, and even makes palatable the over-sentimental duet with Ivano Turco’s Jamie, My Man, Your Boy.

The overly sweet ending to the show, after some very strong action about homophobic bigotry, and racial prejudice, especially from Akshay St Clair as Jamie’s viciously rejective Dad, and Jordan Ricketts school bully Dean, did not bother the excitable audience one iota. They cheered Jamie’s every stand against, authority, poor head teacher Miss Hedges, a lovely study of an old-fashioned teacher out of step with modern youth from Sam Bailey, her chances defeating the students as they gathered to support Jamie attending the Prom in a dress were nil.

And Ivano Turco delivered a Jamie worthy of that support. From the moment he put on those bright red six inch high heeled platform shoes, to appearing in full drag, Ivana made Jamie who was going down this road not just to show off, but because he loved doing so as much as other 16-year-olds dreamed about playing for Manchester City, Liverpool or the Arsenal. He made telling contributions to the eight numbers he was involved in and moved in those shoes as easily and elegantly as if they were the latest flat trainers.

Which begs the question why was Strictly Come Dancing’s Kevin Clifton, who stylishly combined the roles of cross dressing shop owner Hugo and drag queen Loco Channelle, not given more opportunities to show off his undoubted dance talents.

Two of Jamie’s greatest supporters on stage, both underused vocally, were Sejal Keshwala as mother best friend and ever-bargain-hunting neighbour Ray, and Talia Palamathanan’s traditional Muslim student fighting religious as well as chauvinistic prejudice in her determination to study as a doctor.
Talia was also the show’s Dance Captain, helping the tremendously energetic ensemble to make the most of Kate Prince’s hard-hitting choreography. With resident director on hand to keep the production up to scratch, and MD keyboard player Danny Belton and his onstage band ensuring that the musical energy level also never dropped, this production, which promised so much to start with never disappointed its enthusiastic audience.


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