Venue Cymru Nov 28 – Dec 2 2023(4 / 5)
Nica Burns and a Sheffield Theatres Production, music by Dan Gillespie Sells, book and lyrics by Tom McRae
Why would a teenager want to stand out from the crowd? For many teenagers, fitting in with your peers is hugely important so there must be a reason to be different.
This is the story of Jamie, someone who by force of personality stood out from the crowd. Perhaps he always knew he was different. Perhaps an extrovert personality made him a born performer, but why choose to be a drag queen? By any stretch of the imagination this is an unusual ambition, and this play is a recounting of a now well known story based on the real life experience of Jamie Campbell.
The action centres around the school environment of a year 11 class in the lead up to their end of school prom. It focuses on Jamie, who is coming to terms with himself, and explores his ambition to be a female impersonator. It seems he came out twice, once as gay and subsequently as an aspiring drag queen. As the school setting is a working class environment in Sheffield, these factors brought with them the scrutiny, must of it unwanted, from his peers and teachers.
The stand out performer was Ivano Turco as Jamie who started shy, and mixed up yet became increasingly feminine and confident. My problem was that in using a soft voice to accentuate his femininity, he became hard to hear. He was ably supported by Rebecca McKinnis as his mother, Darren Day as his mentor, Hugo/Loco Chanelle and Talia Palamathanan as Priti Pasha, whose songs were memorable.
The production was great although not without its problems. There was a 10 minute hiatus for a sound system failure near the start, yet the cast and crew addressed this and the musical continued without affecting the enjoyment of the audience. The set was varied, flexible and effective, switching seamlessly from school room to nightclub to kitchen. The choreography was energetic and balletic and the score varied in intensity from highly charged to being soulful and poignant.
In one sense, this play is mundane. The vast majority of 16 year olds go through struggles to assert their identity and individuality and many struggle with attendant mental health problems. In another sense this story is highly unusual and comes with layers of meaning and issues. Jamie knew from a young age that he was gay and had an attraction bordering on compulsion for dressing up in so called girls clothes. This made him out of step with society, such that his father thought him a disgrace and some of his peers poured scorn on him, even bullied him. As he explores his ambition to be a drag queen, he faces losing his best friend, and being excluded from the prom because he wants to wear a dress. Issues such as prejudice and discrimination and then human rights spring to mind but most importantly, it is clear from the play that one should stay true to yourself and then it is possible to fight through the barriers of social limitations and achieve success.
Even if a story of an aspiring drag queen is not your cup of tea, there is much in this play that makes it thoughtful, entertaining and uplifting theatre.