Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Life is probably a drag for any sixteen-year-old on the verge of the big bad world where a life of dead-end drudgery awaits. Such twenty-first century adolescent ennui is amplified times ten with extra added dance moves for Jamie New, the high-kicking teenage hero of composer Dan Gillespie Sells and writers Tom MacRae and Jonathan Butterell’s west end hit. Touring in the UK for the first time, Matt Ryan’s production for Sheffield Theatres sees Layton Williams slip into Jamie’s scarlet stilettoes and glad rags once more following his own west end run en route to enlightenment, empowerment and a brand new life.
Jamie’s story draws from a real-life soap opera that was in part played out on reality TV, giving an extra edge to its prime time depiction of low-expectation lives taking a leap towards somewhere brighter. This is achieved with a feelgood sleight of hand in a rites of passage yarn designed to inspire generations of would-be Jamies while calling for the sort of grown-up tolerance the world could probably do with a bit of just now.
As Jamie moves from classroom to catwalk by way of Shane Richie’s jaded drag queen Hugo’s dressing up box of a shop, once he puts on a frock he discovers he can deal with all of his demons, be it his errant dad or schoolboy thug Dean Paxton. Wise words come from Jamie’s classmate Pritti, played by Sharan Phull, and by Amy Ellen Richardson as Jamie’s beleaguered mum, Margaret. Surfing a Spartacus moment outside the school prom with attitude aplenty, Jamie is brought to life by Williams with sass, pizazz and just the right amount of vulnerability.
With a set of pop showtunes accompanied by shape-throwing ensemble routines choreographed by Kate Prince on Anna Fleischile’s versatile classroom set, this might just be the most enlivening onstage example yet of how the geek inherit the earth.
The Herald, March 4th 2020