For a stage musical that has gained such widespread popularity it was heartening to see and hear last night that it has not lost sight of its clear and defiant message. The story of Jamie New is one of prejudice and of homophobia, one of love and of community. It’s a story that needed to be told and still needs to be told. It should be compulsory viewing for people of all ages!

Photo: Matt Crockett

Photo: Matt Crockett

It was born of a simply brilliant documentary about a young boy being raised by his mother aided by a friend and neighbour after his bigoted father has left. The boy is gay, the boy likes to dress as a girl but the boy does not want to be a girl. In a world where gender issues are never far from the news, this idea comes pretty low down the list. This is a story about drag.

It comes wrapped in the sugar coated form of a musical, but it never veers from the hard truths that Jamie at just 16 has to confront. Nor does it depend on a string of flimsy songs, every note and every lyric packs a punch and those punches in this touring company are delivered with power by a cast that has not one weakness from the principals to the cast of really talented young performers who look very much like that might be just 16.

Jamie this time round is played by Ivano Turco with real sensitivity and at times real sass. The boy can sing, his voice is sweet although occasionally somewhat lost against a rather loud backing from the band (and maybe the sound engineer), but in the tender moments it is a real delight. His mother Margaret is played by Rebecca McKinnis, and wow, what a voice, soaring power but in addition that quality that can really transform a song. And that quality is acting, delivering a song in character and not just belting out a tune like a pop number, truly a five star performance.

Shobna Gulati once again does what she does with perfect timing and comedic charm. From her first moments in the world of entertainment it was obvious that she would become a star and once again she proves the fact, Ray is the family friend that is always there and Gulati is simply right in the role.

John Partridge is Hugo/Loco Chanel, the drag mentor who takes Jamie under his wing. It’s a role that needs to be delivered with real sensitivity, never wasting a comic moment but at the same time never losing the sadness. Partridge nails it! His performance is delicately nuanced, tender but fierce and my word can he deliver those songs, what a voice, he burns up the stage.

Equally impressive is Hayley Tamaddon as Miss Hedge the teacher who has to deal with a class full of kids with crazy aspirations and parents fuelled by prejudice and hate.

Talia Palamathanan plays Jamies’  best friend, a quiet Muslim girl with the talent and drive to actually achieve her dream of becoming a doctor in a world where dreams can be crushed with promises of being a forklift truck driver or working in an abattoir. How many of us remember that damning attitude of lousy careers officers? Talia plays the role for real and delivers perhaps the most beautiful musical moments of the evening.

This is very much an ensemble piece and it would be great to name each and every member of the cast, but it would take far too long. But in an unusual final curtain call each and every member of that company is given their moment to walk down and take a solo bow and get the applause they truly deserve.

Andrew Kay

31 October

Theatre Royal Brighton


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