Theatre: Jamie’s dress code

Everybody's Talking About Jamie   Picture: Chris Etchells
Everybody's Talking About Jamie Picture: Chris Etchells

Because Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is the story of a 16-year-old boy who wants to wear a dress to the school prom, people are liable to make an assumption, which the creators of the new musical have had to dispel.

“There is no transgender issue at all,” declares director Jonathan Butterell. “Jamie is a boy who wants to wear a dress. There is no part of him that wants to be a girl.”

Recently he, along with composer Dan Gillespie Sells, frontman of The Feeling, and Tom MacRae, television writer and creator of Comedy Central’s Threesome, introduced the show to schools on different sides of Sheffield.

“We talked about the issues of a boy going to school in a dress and what that would feel like and at Firth Park, some said it would be OK, some struggled a lot. When we got to High Storrs – and they were a little older, sixth-formers – they said, that would be OK. We have transgender kids in our school.”

“That would have been inconceivable in our day,” reckons Dan. “We started writing this piece two years ago and things have changed considerably in that time. We have had to show where Jamie stands so there is no confusion and we are telling a clear story because there is a lot to keep up with. Transgender is an issue that has exploded in two years.”

Jonathan says: “Ultimately what we want to come out of this piece is not that it is just about this unusual kid. It is about a 16-year-old lad going, ‘who am I, where do I fit in this world?’.

Tom chimes in: “There’s a particular point in your life where you realise your parents are real people and flawed and brilliant, terrible and supportive and the school that you have hated for so long is soon coming to an end and the world out there isn’t what you thought it was, but leaving school is still brilliant. You’re not an adult but you’re not a kid and you’ve got to start making decisions about who you are going to be.”

Dan points out it is also about the mother. “There’s a mum who is trying to look after a son who is at that stage in a context where opportunity isn’t always there or at least offered easily.

Tom adds: “She wants him to fly, she wants him do well but she doesn’t want him to go at the same time. She is caught in that lovely tragic romantic position of being so proud he is going out there and so scared about it.“

The writers are in their late 30s and although teenage life is different from their day a lot of their own experience informs the play.

“When you go into the schools you realise there’s a lot that hasn’t changed,” says Dan. “Even the way the kids are trying to subvert the uniform and try and express themselves within this over-sized itchy-fabric blazer they have to wear. “As institutions they still run in the same way, especially when you see a school where the kids have slightly taken over a bit. That’s not changed, it’s the same dynamic. Top dog is still the top dog, the It Girls are still the It Girls.”

MacRae grew up in Northampton and hopes youngsters here appreciate how lucky they are to be able to see a show set in their home city. “Kinky Boots is set in Northampton but opened on Broadway and probably won’t get there for years.”

l Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is at the Crucible Theatre from February 9-25.