Everybody’s Talking About Jamie 


In the world of British musical theatre, few sparkle with the audacity and warmth of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

It is the true story of Jamie New, a 16-year-old from Sheffield, who dreams of becoming a drag queen. Defying the grey drudgery of school life, Jamie aspires to attend his prom in a dress, sparking a range of reactions from his classmates, teachers, and family.

The show integrates the flamboyant and expressive world of drag culture as a central theme, celebrating it as a vibrant form of self-expression and identity. Jamie’s aspiration to become a drag queen serves as the show’s narrative core, exploring the transformative power of drag in allowing individuals to express their true selves. The mentorship of Hugo, a former drag queen who becomes Jamie’s guide, introduces the rich history and emotional depth of drag culture, highlighting its role as both a personal and political statement.

Despite facing bullying, skepticism, and the estrangement of his father, Jamie’s resolve is bolstered by his mother, his friend Pritti, and a vibrant community that embraces him. Through a blend of humour, poignant moments, and dynamic musical numbers, the narrative unfolds Jamie’s courageous quest for acceptance and his pursuit to shine as his true self.

Jamie is played with effervescent charm by Ivano Turco (formerly known as Prince Sebastian from Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s ill-fated Cinderella).

The musical score by Dan Gillespie Sells is a standout; melding pop anthems and soulful ballads into a soundtrack that echoes in the heart long after the curtains fall. Rebecca McKinnis, as Jamie’s mum, is the emotional anchor of the show. Her renditions of ‘If I Met Myself Again’ and the haunting ‘He’s My Boy’ are powerful testimonials to the unconditional love and quiet strength of a mother supporting her child against societal prejudices. I think I had something in my eye. John Partridge (who also starred as drag queen Albin in ‘La Cage Aux Folles’) excels as mentor Hugo, adding depth to the narrative, illustrating the generational continuity within the LGBTQ community and the role of elders in passing down knowledge, pride, and a sense of belonging to younger generations.

The show’s portrayal of drag is not just about the glitz and glamour but also underscores the courage and resilience required to defy societal norms. Through spectacular musical numbers and the creation of Jamie’s drag persona, the production pays homage to the artistry, creativity, and community spirit inherent in drag culture. These elements are depicted as sources of empowerment for Jamie, helping him to navigate the challenges he faces from those who do not understand or accept him.

Staging, under the adept direction of Matt Ryan and the original vision of Jonathan Butterell, is ingeniously simple yet effective. Anna Fleischle’s set design combines with Luke Halls’ video projections to transport audiences from the drabness of a school classroom to the glitz of a drag show with seamless grace. Kate Prince’s choreography injects the production with a palpable energy, turning school corridors and prom nights into stages for rebellion and self-expression.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a dazzling beacon of hope and celebration in the murky waters of societal expectations. It reminds us that at the end of the day, the bravest thing one can do is be oneself.

This is one of my favourite feel-good shows. It’s touring 15 UK cities. Catch it if you can. 

Everybody's Talking About Jamie is on UK tour, March-July 2024

Ushers: The Front of House Musical 


Playing in the basement of the Other Palace (with unassigned seating, so it’s luck of the draw), this slightly amateurish production follows a group of ushers around the theatre in the run-up to, and during, the performance of a fictional show.

The ushers are caricatures, with little character development. There’s the gay couple, always bickering. There’s the good-looking straight one. There’s the new starter learning the ropes, and Rosie the gushy usher who takes videos of the shows she works in and uploads them to TikTok to become TikTok famous (or was it Instagram? I didn’t care). Then there’s the super creepy manager who bullies the ushers and leers at the women. It’s a tiny space, and the actor playing the manager spat over the audience when shouting out his lines more than once. It wasn’t nice.

The show is meant to be funny. It’s not, at least mostly not. There are a few Easter eggs for theatre lovers (for example, Rosie’s TikTok account has 24,601 followers. Think about it). It was those occasional funny lines, along with the considerable energy invested by the actors, which justifies a second star, but many of the jokes fall flat. Ironically, the line about Sheridan Smith’s play Closing Night was prophetic, as Opening Night announced it was closing early the day after I saw Ushers.

The songs are mediocre, both in terms of score and lyrics. I’d give you an example, but I’d forgotten them by the time I got home.

A musical sending up musicals is such a good idea. Forbidden Broadway does it brilliantly. Spamilton (only on for a few weeks and never seen again) was hilarious. One of my favourite productions is I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical, which is being revived for a national tour this summer, and which is considerably funnier than, and superior to, Ushers. If you fancy the concept, wait a few weeks and see I Wish My Life; don’t bother with Ushers

Ushers is playing at the Other Palace Theatre until 19 May 2024

Stranger Things: The First Shadow 


If, like me, you sat through the drivel that is the TV show to keep your children company, and pretended to care about the creepy plant monsters that are actually animals living in another dimension but eating humans in a made up American town called Hawkins, Indiana, you’ll walk into the Phoenix Theatre with some reservations.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow is a prequel to the TV series. It’s set 25 years earlier, in 1959, when the mum (played by Winona Ryder on TV) and intimidating town sheriff Jim Hopper are teenagers at High School.

The plot revolves around young Henry Creel, portrayed with a chilling intensity by Louis McCartney. Henry, a boy whose previous school record is as shadowy as the Upside Down itself, moves to Hawkins under an ominous cloud (and not just because of his propensity for causing supernatural phenomena when he’s in a bad mood). McCartney walks a tightrope between sympathetic and sinister, making us root for him even as we reach for the garlic.

The opening sequence to the show is astonishing. The producers have used special effects in a way never seen on the London stage. If you were impressed with Harry Potter’s special effects at the Palace Theatre, you ’ain’t seen nothing yet. The production is electric (perhaps literally, given the penchant for exploding lightbulbs on stage), with engineering and technological devices that will have you thinking: ‘did that just happen?’. The stagecraft feels like sorcery. Miriam Buether’s sets shuttle us from high school hallways to sinister labs with ease. It’s here that the magic of the theatre melds with the magic of the Upside Down, supported by Paul Arditti’s haunting sound design that plays your spine like a xylophone.

Do you need to have seen the (four) TV series to understand the show? Yes, and no. It stands perfectly well as standalone theatre. But if you haven’t watched the TV show, you’ll miss a lot of the references and some of the plot will go over your head.

And here’s a little secret, if you made it this far. Underneath the Phoenix Theatre (with a slightly concealed entrance round the corner) is the Phoenix Arts Club – a wonderfully camp, musicals based bar which is the darling of the unemployed actor. I’m a member, but you don’t need to be one to buy a drink there before the show. Get to the theatre early, go to the Phoenix Arts Club, and drink in the wonderfully stagey atmosphere. (And if you tell the manager, Peter, that I sent you, you might get a free drink!)

Don’t go to see Stranger Things: The First Shadow for a high-falutin evening of culture at the theatre. Don’t go to see it for laughs (in fact, if you don’t like jump scares, don’t go to see it at all). But do go to see it if you want to be awed, if your children love the TV show (and you love your children), or if you just want a truly memorable – and different – night at the theatre. Just don’t blame me if you can’t turn off the night light when you get home. 

Stranger Things: The First Shadow plays at the Phoenix Theatre until December 2024. Not recommended for under 12s