When I went: 11 December 2017
Location: Apollo Theatre, London
Performers: John McCrea (Jamie New), Josie Walker (Margaret New), Mina Anwar (Ray), Tamsin Carroll (Miss Hedge), Lucie Shorthouse (Pritti Pasha), Phil Nichol (Hugo), Alex Anstey (Laika Virgin), James Gillan (Tray Sophisticay), Daniel Jacob (Sandra Bollock), Ken Christiansen (Jamie’s Dad), Luke Baker (Dean Paxton), Courtney Bowman (Fatimah), Jordan Cunningham (Sayid), Daniel Davids (Levi), Ryan Hughes (Mickey), Harriet Payne (Bex), Shiv Rabheru (Cy), Lauran Rae (Becca), Cherelle Jay (Vicki)
Creative team: Dan Gillespie Sells (music), Tom Macrae (book and lyrics), Jonathan Butterell (director), Anna Fleischle (set and costume design), Kate Prince (choreography), Theo Jamieson (musical director)
Approximate price: £60
Special points: Strong acting, moving moments
Best bit: Work of Art / Spotlight
If I could change one thing: Cut out one or two of the introspective ballads
‘Jamie’ has a lot of good points on paper before you even see it. It isn’t particularly unusual in that it follows the story of an ‘outsider’ and his friends as they try to figure out who they are and follow their dreams in a sometimes hostile environment (see Bend it like Beckham, Billy Elliot, Annie, etc.), but the fact that it is based on a real-life story and is bang up to date in terms of its cultural references makes it more relevant.
It is interesting that at the point in time we see him, Jamie has no problem being openly gay, and even some the more unsympathetic characters seem to have (albeit grudgingly) accepted this – the fact that he now wants to perform as a drag queen is what he has to struggle with. The fact that Jamie, his best friend Pritti and his parental figures Margaret and Ray are so likeable, and not one-dimensional, also keeps the story engaging.
The songs are also strong enough to make you want to see this musical more than once, particularly the upbeat numbers like Work of Art and Spotlight, as well as the title song. Personally, I would have cut one or two of the introspective ballads – some of them are sweet and do give us an insight into what the character singing them is thinking and feeling (If I Met Myself Again; It Means Beautiful) but some are a little unnecessary and just hammer the point home (He’s My Boy; My Man, Your Boy); however, there is no second half dip.
Even though I was rooting hard for Jamie and Pritti, I felt that the ‘resolution’ with the villain Dean in the final scene was a little unrealistic. Yes, Dean might have accepted Pritti’s outburst about him being destined to be a ‘high school hero, life zero’ type as legitimate (having probably thought about this himself), but I didn’t think he would really change character quickly enough to accept Jamie’s request to take his hand – although I could definitely see him and others of his generation changing their views as they got older. I did appreciate that Jamie’s dad refused to engage with him – unfortunately, sometimes people who are ‘different’ still get that kind of flat refusal to be open-minded from people of older generations. This musical also has some sassy and likeable supporting characters in Jamie’s other classmates and the drag queens, and I liked that Miss Hedge showed herself to be torn in trying to handle Jamie’s wish to appear at prom in a dress versus the ‘complaints’ of other parents and, perhaps, her own wish to protect Jamie from ridicule.
John McCrea as Jamie was in almost every scene and carried the responsibility with ease, singing and dancing very well and putting enough flippancy and humour into the character to balance the serious stuff that he has to go through. He also has the perfect look to play Jamie, willowy and long-limbed to show off the heels and dresses, with a strong face that works beautifully with makeup and the drag costumes. The acting from the whole cast was very strong, with Lucie Shorthouse’s Pritti and Josie Walker’s Margaret particular standouts.
There was also some very slick dancing from the Year 11 characters, especially in ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ and Work of Art. The positioning of the (small) orchestra in shaded cubicles above the stage also worked well, and the sets provided a good realistic downbeat backdrop to the sparkly action and costumes in the ‘performance’ scenes.