New year. New class. Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae’s uplifting musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie enters its third year in the West End, with Noah Thomas, still at Mountview, making his professional stage debut as the title character.
What his performance lacks in vocal polish, it makes up for in charm. His youth plays in his favour. He convinces as a 16-year-old Sheffield schoolboy, who’s confident in his identity as a young gay man and would-be drag queen, but still a little guileless and in need of guidance. While he nails Kate Prince’s choreography, he doesn’t overplay things. His Jamie is flamboyant and self-involved, but also very much still a teenager who loves – and needs – his mum. There’s a slightly unfinished quality to his performance that suits the role.
Hiba Elchikhe, also new to the production, provides appealing support as his studious, patient friend Pritti, delivering a moving version of It Means Beautiful. Preeya Kalidas is also on strong vocal form as teacher Miss Hedge, though it’s an underdeveloped and ambiguous role. Not an outright villain, she tries to instil realistic expectations of life in her charges, but carries it too far.
The shift from casting middle-aged male comic actors, such as Phil Nichol and Shane Richie, to genuine drag superstars in the role of ageing drag queen/mentor Hugo alters the balance of the production in an interesting way. The character’s big drag reveal is no longer a punchline, rather a celebratory moment, which feels fitting. The current incumbent, Roy Haylock aka Bianca del Rio, brings wry warmth and pizzazz to the role.
It’s remarkable what a tension-less musical this is. Most of the people in Jamie’s life affirm and support his choices, and while he needs to come to terms with himself, he’s half-way there already. The only real antagonist is Jamie’s crap dad, but even when he inevitably lets Jamie down, he recovers quickly because deep down he knows he’s loved and valued and that comes across in the performances. There’s something quite lovely about this lack of conflict though, the way the show focuses on friendship, acceptance and love.
The most emotionally capsizing moment in Jonathan Butterell’s production belongs to Melissa Jacques as Jamie’s mum. With the arrival of Dear Evan Hansen, the West End now boasts two rounded portrayals of the fierce love between a single mother and her son. Evan Hansen might be the more nuanced, but Jamie has the edge in terms of sheer emotional force.
He’s My Boy is a weapons-grade tearjerker, but it’s also a beautifully constructed song, and Jacques, previously an understudy in the role, hits every beat. She has one of the richest voices of the current cast, powerful and controlled, capable of reducing the audience to a puddle of overpriced sauvignon blanc, mascara and tears.