Everybody’s Talking About Jamie star makes hometown debut in Wolverhampton

In March last year, the cast of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie were waiting in the wings of the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham to open the first ever UK tour of the hit West End musical.

Simeon Beckett from Bilston, who plays Levi in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'
Simeon Beckett from Bilston, who plays Levi in 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie'

The show was ready to go, audience members were arriving at the door, but less than an hour before the performance, the show was cancelled due to rising numbers of coronavirus cases.

A few hours earlier, Boris Johnson had recommended avoiding theatres and pubs, without enforcing their closure. The show did not go on.

“It was really upsetting,” Bilston actor Simeon Beckett said. “We thought it would be 12 weeks max, and over a year later, we’ve only just got back.”

“It was really heavy during those times and obviously upsetting for everyone. But I kept myself busy and active while we were off and tried to keep my spirits up and hope that we would get back and now here we are.”

When the musical finally returned to the Alexandra 18 months later, people lined the streets of Birmingham to get back into the theatre.

Now the show is playing at Wolverhampton's Grand Theatre, which is particularly special for Beckett.

Simeon has been cycling to the theatre

The 27-year-old actor who plays Levi in the show has always lived in Wolverhampton, and has been cycling to the theatre because it’s so close to his mother’s house.

The performer said: “I’ve never performed at the Grand which is crazy because it’s my hometown. It’s more nerve-wracking because obviously I have more people watching me that I personally know, but at the same time it’s more comfortable because I’m on my home ground so I have more confidence.”

Growing up in Wolverhampton, Simeon was yet to discover his theatrical passions, and originally wanted to set out on a different path entirely.

"I actually didn’t want to be a dancer originally, or a singer or actor. I really wanted to be a footballer. I played a lot of football when I was younger and it wasn’t until I was 18 when I started taking dance seriously, and then I went to a dance college when I was 19, so I was a bit of a late-starter."

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Fittingly, Simeon’s character Levi is asked by the teacher in the show what he wants to be, with the responding gestures implying he wants to be a footballer, which his teacher is dismissive of. This is the essence of what Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is about.

The hit coming-of-age musical tells the story of Jamie New, a 16-year-old wannabe drag queen, who navigates the trials of hostile classmates, an absent father, and a teacher who insists Jamie abandons his dreams to pursue a realistic career.

It’s a show with a strong message, which is why it has partnered with the Diana Award’s Anti-Bullying programme, as well as making educational packs for teachers to encourage discussions around identity and self-esteem in the classroom.

And now this message is reaching even more people, with a feature film of the musical streaming online, including special cameos from cast members like Layton Williams, who plays Jamie in the touring production.

Simeon said: “There’s a lot of hype around the film and it’s done really well, which has done great wonders for the show.

“It’s put the word out and now more people want to see it.”

But the Wolverhampton actor hasn’t had time to watch the film yet, as he’s so busy with the show. Not only does he play Levi, but he also has the demanding role of dance captain.

As well as leading cast warm-ups, making notes as an observer for certain shows, and rehearsing the understudies, he has to cut the show when cast members are too ill to perform so the rest of the cast can still perform the show.

But the pressure is a privilege for Simeon, who is incredibly proud of the show.

He said: “I love the message that the show gives out – for people to be equal and accepted for who they are. It’s made me so proud to be a part of that message.”

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is at the Wolverhampton Grand until October 9.

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