Everybody’s Talking About Jamie – Festival Theatre

Written by Dan Gillespie Sells & Tom Macrae

From the Original Idea by Jonathan Butterall

Directed by Matt Ryan

Billing itself as a musical for today, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie lives up to its proclamations, centring its narrative on an authentic bedrock of diversity, inclusivity and fabulousness. And yet, while this certainly is the future of musical theatre, there’s something vintage about the production. Hints of Priscilla, gleams of Billy Elliot and of course, all the razzamatazz of the drink stained, nicotine rich bars of Soho – it’s a comforting production, which burns as a fresh creation but welcomes like an old friend. 

Drag is an old friend, and for some of these queens – a very old one. A consumption culture of binge streaming, rising alongside a broad openness means that while there may not necessarily be an additional drag, there is certainly a more visual culture and accessibility for mainstream audiences. Inspired by the life of Jamie Campbell, who was denied a place at prom after voicing the intention of wearing a dress. With music from Dan Gillespie Sells and lyrics courtesy of Tom MacRae, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie tackles the musical theatre behemoth with the story of little lad who wants to wear big heels. It’s a heartfelt progressive production, which vitally is fun, engaging and has staying power with its composition.

So, to start with – Layton Williams is magnanimously talented, natural and a killer in those heels. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will not work without a focal point, a Jamie, a Mimi Me, and focus nabbing is Williams’ gift. Tight choreography, with an impressive vocal range, Williams’ strength lies is with his ability to merge these talents into a bundle of energy, while also delivering a solid acting performance. This is a role which could easily be hammy, foolish or too extravagant and Williams is certainly capturing the extravaganza of the role but makes it inherently human. 

What helps strengthen this authentic performance, is the chemistry Layton shares with two stellar women; Shobna Gulati and Amy Ellen Richardson, who play Ray and Jamie’s mother Margaret. As Gulati provides comedic relief, a fun-loving free spirit, it is Ellen Richardson’s nuances which bridge into the audience, particularly the parents. To have the genuine reactions, to support Jamie’s decisions, to proactively adore her son for who he is, but still demonstrate that even the most liberal, supportive loved ones can have a limit to their acceptance, is a brave, honest take. Her vocals propel He’s My Boy into the pantheon of ballads which dominate musical theatre, a timeless song in the making. There is, of course, one more leading lady who has pride of place in the spotlight.

Now, being frank, Shane Ritchie makes a far superior Hugo than he does Loco Chanelle, and this is evidently down to Ritchie’s lack of experience in physical drag. No stranger to the craft, far from it, Ritchie has the character of Loco, but his body doesn’t personify her attitude. The result doesn’t weaken the role or the mentoring effect, but it weights our appreciation towards Hugo, rather than an even footing with Loco. Hugo is engaging, playful, but has a core of iron where required, playing the character spectacularly, he just fails to give as much oomph to Loco. Ritchie’s experience with country vocals means that iconic numbers Over the Top and The Legend of Loco Chanelle offer a unique dynamic to the touring production. 

On top of this, can we just have a moment of appreciation for the delectable stars Garry Lee, JP Mccue and Rhys Taylor who take on the marvellous parts of drag queens Sandra Bollock, Laika virgin and Tray Sophisticay.

It isn’t all friendly, a narrative centring around an openly gay boy’s desire to perform drag, still at high school, invites the antagonism of ignorance. Opting for realism, our adversaries are threefold, though remarkably treated with a fair sense of dignity. Lara Denning’s Miss Hedge, careers advisor and Headmistress at Jamie’s school isn’t an obnoxious villain, she’s a stressed teacher who simply has concerns. Her concerns are voiced tactlessly, and she certainly isn’t winning teaching awards, but Denning carries weight to the part, fleshing out Hedge’s place in the narrative.

Wasted is George Sampson’s bully Dean, who only moves into a third dimension after a crowd-pleasing dressing down by Sharan Phull’s Pritti Pasha, for the most part, misusing his movement talents outside of crowd numbers. Finally, Cameron Johnson is the nameless father of Jamie, also the resident director, his place within Jamie’s story is, well, to not have a place. Fleeting, bigotted and dismissive of Jamie’s brilliance, Johnson’s minimal role speaks volumes of the world’s concerns.

If one actively sits and ponders the production, ripples will highlight an occasional issue, but these are superficial. At the crux of the matter, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is, unsurprisingly, on the lips of the Westend, the world and right here in the heart of Scotland. It’s the progressive future of big-budget theatre, throwing open the doors for any audience and reminding us that you just have to strap on the heels, take the bins out, and be your best self.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie runs at The Festival theatre until March 7th. Tickets availble from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/everybodys-talking-about-jamie

Photos by Johan Perrson

Rambert – Festival Theatre

Artistic Director: Benoit Swan Pouffer

A dancer’s ability stretches beyond the confines of simple movement, as storytellers, a superbly talented dancer is also a crafter of narrative. At times, the lack of a voice has drawbacks, but Rambert (in particular) excels in the extraordinary, the delicate marriage of movement and tale. A trio of performances, which couldn’t be more different if they tried, each evoke particular emotional responses – whether this is the waving bursts of Presentient, the righteous indignation of In Your Rooms, or the headbanging preservation with Rogues. Whichever you prefer, Rambert once again demonstrates their keen ability to go beyond movement, and into artistry.

Tight, claustrophobic and a relentless assault of choreography, Presentient transforms the Rambert dancers into a wave of mobile syntaxes, a grown-up Sesame Street if you will. Certainly, the most ethereal, Wayne McGregor’s choreography ebbs and flows with the soundscape, manifesting an intense wall of billowing movement. There’s a sense of continuous movement, unnervingly so, as the dancers retract into a tight-knit group. Cast against Lucy Carter’s lighting design, otherworldly yet complimenting the soft pastels of Ursula Bombshell’s costumes – Presentient is a furrowing piece which feels held back by its inability to move outside of its confines.

Sandwiching between the opener and closing performance, Marion Motin’s Rogue strides ahead as a significantly brutal, mesmeric piece of movement. When the husk we clad ourselves in burns away, removing material possessions, our shields and homes, what sort of person is left behind – and what does it take to survive? Rouge, with echoes of the horrors of Grenfell, feels the most tangible of the triple bill, it’s metaphorical contexts grounded in Yann Seabra’s costume design, accelerating perception of the dancer’s proposed character.

Visceral, Motin’s choreography ensures a sense of fatigue, though far from an issue, this is the purpose of the piece. Every stretch of muscle, each collapse and push for the dancers to communicate a sense of ‘carrying on’ is visible. That when the world around you collapses, we find this primal resource to survive, our biological machines working to the fullest to the beating rhythm behind us.

If Micka Luna’s composition doesn’t evoke memories of long, regretful but exhilarating nights out, or push you back into the club-scene check your pulse. The rhythmic thrashing ensnares spectators, drawn to the pulsing movements as they march, drum and drop into the smouldering shadows. In pace with not only the dancers, Judith Leray’s lighting is also an assault on the senses, commanding our attention and conjuring a refusal to look away.

Control is the name of the game with Hofesh Shechter’s closing production of In Your Rooms, or rather, the lack of controlMuch of the Shechter’s lively choreography feels alien, distant to the audience, but glimmers with emotional recognition. Quite often we see these repetitious patterns bubble over in select performers, their physicality broken and overburdened as they leap sporadically, or crumple into the mess laying around them. The only piece with a voice-over, noting the building blocks of the universe and how he can comically; ‘do better’, it adds an extra element to the dynamic, though overstays by a minute or two.

Narrative is key for artistic director Benoit Swan Pouffer’s vision of Rambert’s triple bill. Above tight choreography, which is a given, Puffer’s desire for dancers with a purpose behind the talent, and ability to stand as both form and storyteller is evident, is part of Rambert’s issue here. Singularly, there is no fault in the movement, nor inherently with the pieces, instead, the flow staggers as two productions sit overshadowed by their middle sibling, detaching them from our expectations.

Review published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/rambert-festival-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Mrs Puntila and her Man Matti – Lyceum Theatre

Written by Bertold Brecht

Adapted by Denise Mina

Directed by Murat Daltaban

Never accept charity instead of your rights” – this exceptionally powerful excerpt from Denise Mina’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s socialist satire had the potential to solidify a lacerating piece of Scottish theatre but instead sits as the dribbles of a once splendid cocktail, knocked to the floor.

We are no longer following an aristocrat in Finland, no, far from it – we’re right on our back doorstep. With Scotland’s cherished Elaine C. Smith taking the gender-switch role of Mrs Puntila, the drunken Scottish landowner who adores one thing above a drink – a nightcap. Her faithful chauffer Matti, the quintessentially clever sober in this master-servant comedy could potentially find himself betrothed to Puntila’s daughter Eva, in place of her fiancé the Attache.

Updating this socialist satire, Mina desires to paint Mrs Puntilla as the lush in our lives, usually an ‘aunt’, who has no relation to us whatsoever. Ideally, Puntilla should be the Jekyll & Hyde, the opportunistic split-self, but Murat Daltaban’s interpretation of Smith’s character casts too wide a net. In reality, the distinction between the bitter, callous and cold (sober) Puntilla isn’t discernible from the inebriate. Unengaging, Smith feels stagnant throughout much of the production, disjointed from the room. Largely down to Daltaban’s direction, structure seems devoid for the most part, scenes rolling into the other, broken by musical introductions. Interludes of sorts, which become indecipherable in a cauldron of noise, poor audio quality and repetitious scoring which tunes the ears out.

Who does make a positive impression is Lyceum favourite Steven McNicoll. Instantly a connection forges with driver Matti, it’s difficult not to fall for his witty cynicism or deft control of the stage. Bouncingly lyrical in attitude, McNicoll achieves the only firm laughs this evening, which is still a stretch. A production of extremes, McNicoll sells the mood but sits in stark contrast to the deep-rooted gravity of the nihilistic social injustice performances. The two extremes find no correlation, the humour isn’t landing, which costs earnest tonal changes to feel abrupt, uncertain and, while powerful, merely skin deep.

And this is precisely where Brecht’s original text understood the exaggeration, the utmost extreme, of farcical nonsense. The satire has two attacks – a precise scalpel, or a blundering hammer. Uncomfortably alienating, Mina’s adaptation attempts to spin the plates, making peculiar decisions across the board. Principally, the script adaptations have merit, especially with Scot’s language, but characterisation falls flat, Joanne McGuiness never managing more than a furrowed brow of confusion, until a burst of aggression toward the Act 2 closing.

It all comes too late, as the satire dies, the partygoers are shuffling to their feet, booking taxis and hunting for the nearest chippy. They’re done, ready to go home, and the brutally biting political commentary hits, but not nearly as viscerally as it ought. Stood, a self-proclaimed owner of the Scottish lands, boozed up and arrogant, Puntilla rides through the groaning feast below, Flower of Scotland blaring, a symbol of the aristocracy who preach the beauty of the land they violate. That line, on how charity isn’t an excuse to ignore basic rights, is perhaps one of the sincerest and accurate sentences theatre will utter this year, and while you may forget much of this production, do not forget these examples of Mina’s conceptual ability. 

It is here, atop the moving staircase, where Tom piper’s design work once again elevates a production, this time keeping it from rock bottom. Reflecting the comedy of profession era, noted in the large dog masks as the production opens, Piper’s design is stripped back. A bare-bones set, relying on the raw metal and woodwork to communicate purpose, this is a skeleton of a stage where the cast are its muscle – and the gym was sorely needed. It feels vast, hollow, ravaged, which should (the operative word here) be symbolic of the promises made by Puntila, but it just feels empty.

 A fizz without bubbles, a gin without lime, Mrs Puntilla and Her Man Matti has vision, intent and talent, which are put to squander. Dull satire damages an entire production, one which bolsters such incredible statements and diverse talent. Mina’s adaptation has teeth, razor blades protruding from the gums, but these are brandished, rather than used. Instead, a gentle gnawing around thick, juicy satire on social class is left unscathed, and lacking humour. 

Mrs Puntila and her Man Matti runs at The Royal Lyceum Theatred until March 21st. Tickets are available from: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/mrs-puntila-and-her-man-matti

Photo credit – Mihaela Bodlovic