Layton Williams, who plays title character Jamie, and EastEnders star Shane Ritchie discuss the hit musical and its many relatable qualities
'Everybody's Talking About Jamie is based on a real character who was the subject of a documentary on BBC Three,' says Layton Williams, who is playing the title character in the show's national tour. '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.' Inspired by this tale of community and acceptance, director Jonathan Butterell decided to develop the musical which subsequently rocked London's West End and is in the process of being made into a feature film.
For former EastEnders star Shane Ritchie, who reprises the role of Hugo – and his drag alter-ego Loco – the show has a contemporary relevance. 'I want every kid in the country to see it. It's such a great message for them! It's all about inclusivity and acceptance. The unconditional love of parents for their kids and support from friends and school mates. It's about beating prejudice and living your life to the best for you and those around you.'
'This is a show for everyone, especially for today,' adds Williams. '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. 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.'
credit: Johan Perrson
Drag Race has, of course, been an important introduction to drag culture, but Jamie also follows in the tradition of Kinky Boots – which began life as a film and became a theatrical musical – in challenging prejudice through musical theatre. Jamie celebrates resilience and acceptance but does not shy away from the darker side: a father who isn't quite as tolerant ('if you identify with the dad then have a word with yourself!' says Williams), and the bully, Dean.
For Williams, capturing the main character is not a simple case of celebrating the triumphs. '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?"'
Both Williams and Ritchie regard the show as dynamic and fit for all ages and going beyond the most obvious tropes. 'Right at the beginning he's going "I'm gay, get over it",' says Ritchie. 'It's not about someone being gay, it's about someone who dares to be different.'
'I get messages from older people who have been helped by the show,' concludes Williams. '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. So many people can relate to being an outcast but after seeing the show they'll feel, to quote one of the songs, there's a place where they belong.'
Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, until Sat 29 Feb; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 3–Sat 7 Mar, and touring.
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