Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

New coming-of-age musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie opens at The Crucible this month. Written by Tom Macrae (Doctor Who, Marple and Lewis, Threesome), the musical takes inspiration from 2011 BBC documentary ‘Jamie: Drag Queen at 16’. We spoke to director Jonathan Butterell about the show, his Sheffield roots and the unique soundtrack by Dan Gillespie-Sells.

Hey Jonathan! How are you?
Good thanks! We’ve just arrived in Sheffield today to start rehearsals, it’s a very “hurrah, we’re here!” atmosphere in the cast at the moment.

You’re from the Steel City yourself. Is this the first work you’ve done relating to your hometown?
Yes, I was born in Park Hill flats. I’ve been looking at it from my room here, and it’s ever so strange. I’ve not directed here before, so it feels like coming home! I’m often here as my mum and three brothers all live and work in Sheffield but I live in London now and before that was in New York for 10 years. But I take Sheffield wherever I go.

Can you tell us a bit about the story?
It’s about Jamie, a 16-year-old boy who lives in the north. His ambition in life is to be a drag queen, but he can’t quite say it out loud. Then his best friend Pritti, a Muslim girl, challenges him to go to the school prom in a dress. So the journey is about how he ends up going for it. But it’s really a tale about a boy discovering who he is. The story’s not unique, it’s universal. He asks: “Who am I? What do I want to be?” I think that pretty much any 16-year-old can relate to that.

The lyrics were written by Tom Macrae and the songs by The Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie-Sells. Was having a contemporary soundtrack something you wanted from the outset?
Well, neither of them had written for theatre before, but we really wanted a fresh voice for the music. We knew from the very beginning it was going to be about a 16 year old boy in 2016, so the music had to reflect his life. When I first met Dan, I asked him to write me an album; the piece had to be able to exist on its own.

How did you find lead actor John McCrea?
It was a challenge finding a young man who had the unique skill-set to hold together the show. Jamie is hardly ever off the stage, and he has to sing, dance and act amazingly. It had to be someone unashamedly gay – it’s not a coming out story, he’s out. So we had to find someone at ease with their body and themselves. It was our casting director who found John, and as soon as he walked through the room it was clear he would be our Jamie. He’s been with us for two and a half years now.

The first song ‘Don’t Even Know It’ is already up online as a teaser. Would you say it’s reflective of the show’s music as a whole?
It is yes, it’s the opening number and a way of taking us into the world of Jamie. The music’s varied: there are some power ballads, guitar-led stuff but that song is the most poppy aspect, the most Pharrell-like or summer hit. Jamie’s mum’s songs are deeper territory, more ballads.

What are your plans for 2017?
I’m back off to NYC to work with Taylor Mac, a performance artist. But I do have plans to take Jamie around the world!

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is on at The Crucible from February 13-25. Tickets are available from www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk.

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