Exciting update revealed on Sheffield set movie Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

"I'm leaving LA for a holiday in Sheffield," jokes Tom MacRae, just before catching a flight from his home in the US to see Everybody's Talking About Jamie - the hit stage musical he co-wrote - as it begins a six-month UK tour in the city where it was first produced three years ago.
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After debuting at the Crucible, the show transferred to the West End where it is still booking until the end of August 2020, while October will bring the release of a cinema version made by Warp Films with the original team - playwright Tom, songwriter Dan Gillespie Sells of The Feeling and Park Hill-born director Jonathan Butterell - all on board.

"And now we're back, it's fantastic," says Tom. "I can't believe we get to do it all again."

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Audiences might be relieved to find that the touring version of Jamie, the Sheffield-set tale of a 16-year-old aspiring drag queen who wants to wear a dress and heels to his school prom, has been allotted four weeks at the Lyceum Theatre - double the length of the initial run.

"We were originally supposed to have three weeks in 2017, and then we hadn't sold any tickets so they cut our run to two weeks," Tom recalls, speaking on the phone from Hollywood.

"We hadn't tried to sell any tickets, really, and no-one knew who we were. We were a bit disappointed at the time. Now we get to have as many people in as we can. No-one anticipated how big it was going to get."

Tom had previously worked on TV shows like Doctor Who and wrote the sitcom Threesome, but he hadn't written a theatre script or lyrics before.

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"I thought it was going quite well, and then we had our dress rehearsal, which was really awful. It was so bad, I genuinely thought what we'd written was a load of crap and I'd just wasted my time for about five years working on it. I had a job on a TV show so I thought 'Oh well, I've got that coming up, at least that will be something'."

Layton Williams in Everybody's Talking About Jamie. Picture: Johan PerssonLayton Williams in Everybody's Talking About Jamie. Picture: Johan Persson
Layton Williams in Everybody's Talking About Jamie. Picture: Johan Persson

However, that same day the public dress rehearsal took place, with tickets sold for £1 each. Reportedly the Crucible’s cleaning staff had been busy spreading the word, resulting in a surprisingly large turnout.

"With the audience there, the show just took off like a rocket. The actors were getting laughs, the energy had changed. I remember by the end of the first half people were just screaming and cheering, and at the end of the show we got this huge standing ovation. People went crazy, told their friends and everything happened. There was an exact moment when I saw what it was going to become, and it happened in real time in front of my eyes, and it's all because of that Sheffield audience."

After the Crucible run ended, Sheffield Theatres carried out research that found around 40 per cent of those who saw Jamie were first-time theatregoers.

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"That was exactly what we wanted to happen. Jonathan wanted to take something beautiful to his home city. Dan and Jonathan and I all went to that bog-standard comprehensive that we represent on stage as Jamie's world,” says Tom, 39, who grew up near Northampton.

Tom MacRae. Picture: The Other RichardTom MacRae. Picture: The Other Richard
Tom MacRae. Picture: The Other Richard

And in a world where a ticket to see the historical musical Hamilton can cost £200 in the West End, prices for Jamie are relatively inexpensive at London’s Apollo Theatre.

"We have £20 tickets, loads of them, at every show," Tom says.

He agrees that the subject matter has connected with young audiences on a deep level, but emphasises that there are 'lots of factors at play'.

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"There's not masses of singing, even though it's a musical. There's actually much more talking. Through talking we can create a world that feels real and funny and accessible. It's working class, it's not sentimental, and it's full of toughness and warmth, which is Sheffield all over. Then when they sing, it's pop songs - it feels like stuff you'd hear on the radio. It's about a gay kid who wants to be a drag queen, but I wanted to write a show straight men would want to watch. I think that's been a big secret of it. I love a good musical, but there are so many bad ones."

Layton Williams and the cast of Everybody's Talking About Jamie. Picture: Johan PerssonLayton Williams and the cast of Everybody's Talking About Jamie. Picture: Johan Persson
Layton Williams and the cast of Everybody's Talking About Jamie. Picture: Johan Persson

Fans have contacted Tom to say they feel represented for the first time in the theatre - and not just by the main character Jamie New, who is played at the Lyceum by Layton Williams. Pritti, Jamie's friend who wears a hijab, has been a breakthrough for young Muslim women as well.

"I just thought that's what Sheffield looks like," Tom says. "I wasn't trying to tick a box, I was just being truthful. That's what the real world looks like when you go to a comprehensive school."

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Jonathan was the first of the trio to see the BBC Three documentary - Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 - that provided the catalyst for the whole project. He showed it to Tom and Dan and the potential was immediately apparent. "This was a story that sang," Tom says.

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The film, meanwhile, will be distributed by Disney’s 20th Century Studios and is being edited ready for its release on October 23. It has a quality cast - Richard E. Grant, Sharon Horgan, Sarah Lancashire take leading roles - but finding the right actor to portray Jamie was fiendishly difficult. The part eventually went to Max Harwood, who was deemed to have the right singing, acting and dancing ability.

"It's a lot to ask of an actor - plus they need to look like they're 16," explains Tom. "On stage you get a bit of leeway, if they look a bit older it's a convention that the audience will accept they're young if you stick them in a school uniform. It was really hard. We did see thousands of people to get down to Max."

He thinks Jamie shares 'similar DNA' with The Full Monty, another Sheffield story that won an Oscar nomination in the 1990s. Jamie's determination to find the 'glitter in the grey' of his surroundings is similar, Tom believes, to the steelworkers' idea of lifting themselves out of the doldrums by becoming male strippers.

"If we could have even half of the success of The Full Monty I would be beyond thrilled," he says.

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Has Jamie given Tom, Dan and Jonathan the appetite to produce a follow-up together?

The answer is yes - but only when the 'perfect idea' arrives.

"It's a very hard act to follow," says Tom, who has jobs lined up in the US and is a published children’s author. "Few people are as lucky as we are to land something like this on their first go. At some point, me and Dan and Jonathan will do another show when lightning strikes and we go 'That's the one'."

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, until February 29. See www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/everybodys-talking-about-jamie for details or to book tickets.