Skip to main content

Layton Williams – Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Layton Williams has had a ball since taking over the title role in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the hit West End musical that arrives in Edinburgh next week as part of its first UK tour. Three years after the show based on a true story of a sixteen-year-old boy who finds salvation through becoming a drag queen first appeared, Williams has made the part his own. 

Williams took over the role from his friend John McCrea in Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae’s musical at the start of 2019, and played it on the West End for a year prior to its current six-month tour. Having been doing lead stage roles since he was twelve, however, Williams is aware he can’t play teenagers forever.  

“I’m nearly twenty-six,” he says, sounding much younger. “I think it might be time to stop playing a sixteen-year-old after this.”

His mind does a quick back-flip as he reconsiders.

“Do you know what?” he says. “People say if you can do it, then why not? I’ll milk it for all its worth.”

Williams’ attitude is a perfect display of the mix of boyishness, can-do enthusiasm and unbridled ambition that fires him. It’s been this way since he went to open auditions for Billy Elliot the Musical almost fifteen years ago. It may have been there already when he started doing drama at Carol Godby’s Theatre Workshop in his home town of Bury, Greater Manchester. It was Billy Elliot, however, that changed everything.

“There was an open call in the paper, and my mum said to me why not give it a shot, so I did, and we had this day out in Manchester. When I got it, doing it taught me how to be Layton, how to walk and talk. My whole working world came from that show, and to lead a show at that age was amazing. Whenever I get nervous about things now I look back and I think, I’ve done this before, it’s all going to be fine.”

Williams sometimes sound as gushy as a Hollywood veteran, with every phrase loaded with a sparkle and an exclamation mark shaped cherry on top. For someone who has been immersed in high level theatre of one form or another since he was twelve, such enthusiasm undoubtedly carried him during what ended up being one of the longest running stints by any one performer on Billy Elliot to date.

“Billy Elliot was one of those shows that everyone knew about, even if they didn’t see it. It came out before Netflix or anything like that, but absolutely everyone had heard of it, and it was such fun to do.”

Once Billy Elliot was done, Williams took a lead role in TV comedy drama, Beautiful People, before playing dance-loving schoolboy Stephen in Jack Whitehall’s classroom comedy, Bad Education.
He then appeared on stage in Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, before touring in Hairspray. Williams followed this by taking on the role of doomed drag queen Angel in the twentieth anniversary tour of New York based musical, Rent.

“Playing Angel was a real confidence booster for me,” he says. “Leading a show as an adult was really important.”

And so to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which deals with all too current themes of difference, teenage bullying and Jamie’s attempts to express himself through drag.

“I think it’s an important show, because it’s about people accepting you for who you are, and how it can change things. That’s especially the case with everything that’s going on in the country just now. It’s the perfect show to put out to spread a bit of love and to find a bit of happiness.”

In the show, Williams never lets up for a second.

“I just bring my whole self to it,” he says. “I live the life of Jamie on stage every night. It’s laughter, tears, everything, and I give my whole life to it eight times a week, and bring my Laytonness to it.”

In both its subject and the stamina required to do it, Williams’ commitment is unwavering, and he talks about the experience like the seasoned professional he is.

“It’s challenging to do in every way. It’s been nice to think I can lead a show and do it skilfully. I always saw it in my future, but never thought it would be on this show, so now I get to show people what I’m made of.  I’ve not had that sort of responsibility since I did Billy Elliot, so that’s nice.”

One of the things Williams is also responsible for is Pros from the Shows, the umbrella title of a series of dance workshops he runs in each city of the tour outwith his star turn in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Run with fellow cast member George Sampson, the aim of the workshops is to open the door to the next generation of performers who, like Williams, might not necessarily have been able to pursue a career as an actor without grassroots training. Since setting up the initiative three years ago, Williams has taught “thousands of people, all over the country. It’s something I love to do, and the response has been amazing.”

The initiative is also a handy safety net to have beyond acting. This may be just as well, as beyond Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Williams has no clear plans, or not ones he can talk about, at least.

“Life!” is all he’s prepared to say, lost in the current moment. “Who knows? It’s very hard to project and think what might be ahead. I just want to carry on doing what I’m doing, and take it to the next level. I see Broadway. I see Hollywood. I see the universe. As long as I reach for the stars, the possibilities are actually endless.”

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, March 3-7; His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, April 28-May 2; King’s Theatre, Glasgow, June 8-13.

The Herald, February 27th 2020 



Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug