Musicals have a strong nostalgic resonance with me, reminding me of my own teenage years and many a happy trip to London with my parents to take in the latest show. Love them or hate them they are a big part of London’s theatre culture and hard to ignore regardless of your proclivity. The one that every teenager is talking about at the moment, is Jamie.
Inspired by a real-life story of a teenage boy from County Durham, the musical has its roots in a BBC3 documentary called Jamie – Drag Queen at 16.
I first heard about the musical whilst listening to an interview between Jamie and his mother Margaret and Jenni Murray on Woman’s Hour. It was touching to hear how his mother, who had been on her own for much of his childhood, had not only stood by him but gone out of her way to encourage him to be true to himself.
When Jamie came out to his mother at the age of 14 he declared he was bisexual in a misguided attempt to make it easier for Margaret, however, she told him “not to be greedy…you are gay.” She is clearly not the type of woman to look at the world through rose-tinted spectacles.
The real Jamie’s self-confidence was so evident in the interview and this was portrayed beautifully in the musical characterisation by actor John McCrea. From the outset he is presented as a young man sure of his own identity in a way which many teenagers are invariably not and this was clearly due in no small part to the unswerving love and support of his mother, who he describes not surprisingly as his rock.
Their relationship lies at the centre of this musical and demonstrates wholeheartedly, the unconditional love of a parent for their child and the lengths they will go to in order to guarantee their happiness. What parent can’t relate to that?
At the heart of Jamie’s story and therefore that of the musical is Jamie’s ambition to be a drag queen and to wear a dress to his school prom. As with any gritty British tale of conquering adversity there are, however, obstacles along the way to Jamie realising his dream, not least the battle to overcome prejudice around him. There is after all, a world of difference between sporting peroxide hair and being flamboyant in your appearance and openly wearing a dress.
A teenage plot without prejudice at its core wouldn’t be complete without that ever popular teenage theme of bullying. This is present in two characters. First there is the school thug who struggling with his own sense of identity seeks to provoke and intimidate Jamie at every opportunity. There is, however, no real conflict between them as Jamie is so steadfast in his confidence that he easily overcomes the bully’s verbal assaults with acerbic and humorous dialogue, of the kind that every parent worldwide hopes their own teenager will be able to summon up to defend themselves.
This approach is not, however, so successful with the second antagonist, Jamie’s absent father, a man who clearly struggles with his son not being the kind of man he wants him to be. Shielded from this throughout his life by his mother, Jamie is lost for words in the face of his aggressive assaults when he misguidedly turns up unexpectedly to thank him for the symbolic red birthday shoes that provide the basis for his first drag queen performance. This is the only time you see Jamie crumble and in real life there is no contact between the pair.
The other theme within the play that I loved was the value of female friendship. Margaret’s dear friend Ray is there for her every step of the way, listening, advising and acting as a mummy double to Jamie when he has his rare moments of doubt. As a mother and a female, it’s another thread that gives you that feel good factor, the kind that makes your toes curl and forces you to think who would be that person in your life.
Overall the musical is vibrant, energetic, witty and sassy and what John McCrea can do in those red stilettos puts many a heel obsessed woman to shame. More importantly, however, in a world where it is no longer politically correct to make gay comments, Jamie is bang up to date with its nod to gender politics. The unapologetic hilarity of its campness smacks you in the face and invites you to laugh out loud. For me and maybe other parents in the auditorium it was reminiscent of the good time feel of a night at the infamous Madame Jojo’s. For the teenagers it enforced the need to stand up for themselves and offered a glimpse into another world where anything is possible. All in all if you have teenagers in the house it is an absolute must see.
I love to hear your views and comments. Are you a fan of musicals? Have you seen Jamie? If not do you think you might?