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BWW Interview: Tom MacRae of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE Talks One Night Only Reunion

Tom MacRae, who wrote the book and lyrics to the hit musical, discusses the upcoming virtual reunion.

BWW Interview: Tom MacRae of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE Talks One Night Only Reunion
Tom MacRae

Cast and creatives of Everybody's Talking About Jamie are taking part in a special 'One Night Only' virtual reunion, giving fans of the show a unique live discussion experience.

Tom MacRae, who wrote the show's book and lyrics, chats about why he's excited about the reunion, why the arts are so important, and why he's so proud of the fans.

What can people expect from the reunion?

It's going to be me, Dan Gillespie-Sells (one of the writers) and Jonathan Butterell (director) representing the creatives, along with Lucy Carter, the lighting designer, and set/costume designer Anna Fleischle, as well as some of the Jamies - including Noah Thomas and John McCrea.

What an incredible line-up!

I'm really looking forward to it.

We did one for The Crucible with Rob Hastie (the director) chairing it, and that's the first time I've seen John McCrea and Lucie Shorthouse together since they finished the show. I've seen both of them independently since, but it was so lovely seeing both of them telling stories about the show and things I've forgotten about. So, to have the line-up we've got for this reunion, it's going to be fantastic.

What makes this reunion different?

I think what probably makes us different is that we're still quite a young show, and we're still going. Our set is still sitting there in the West End and hopefully we will all be back on stage fairly soon.

But also, Dan and Johnny [Butterell] are my best friends, so we're very honest about stuff. It's not like we're trying to hide the fact that we had all these massive arguments and didn't get on, because that's never, ever happened. I'm seeing Dan next week, I'm still speaking to Johnny on the phone because he's in Sheffield all the time, and our lives continue to be intertwined - not just because of the show, but because of our friendship and all the things we have in common now.

I think what you're watching is three people who are really good friends getting together and having a natter, rather than just three professionals talking about the show. You'll have something much more intimate.

Also, the reason why Everybody's Talking About Jamie works is because of the three of us working together - we've just loved it so much. All the joy that's such a huge part of the show onstage comes from the joy the three of us have from working together and putting it together. Even the heartbreak and sadness comes from the fact we all have shared tragedies in the family and difficulties and things that we're able to mine together to find the sadness as well.

So, if you want to understand what makes Jamie tick, if you see the three of us talk for five minutes, you'll get it completely.

BWW Interview: Tom MacRae of EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE Talks One Night Only Reunion What are you most excited about for the reunion?

I'm looking forward to watching what everyone has to say, because I'll be watching the whole thing.

It's interesting because, for example, Noah Thomas, I've only met him a couple times, since he's not been in the show that long and normally I live in Los Angeles. We get on with each other really well and our lives are intertwined, but I don't know him that well, so I'm always interested to see what he's got to say.

When we first set it up with the original cast in Sheffield, many of whom became the original cast in London, they're like family now because we went through so much stuff. Whereas as the show goes on and more casts come in, I don't really know them anymore, I'm not there every day, I'm not even there every week or every month. So, I'm kind of from the outside looking in as well, like a fan would be. I'm just really interested to get to know more about some of the newer additions.

And then with someone like Lucy talking about the lighting, I don't know what her process was because I was so busy trying to get everything done that I only got to speak to her a little bit, so I don't know what her thoughts or feelings were on Jamie.

All profits from the One Night Only series is going to Acting For Others. Why do you think it's so important that we support the arts at the moment?

Because the arts are in absolute crisis. It's nobody's fault the way it's all unfolded, but the Government could be far more proactive in actually releasing that money; they've announced it and no one has gotten any of it.

Shows like ours are not subsidised at all - pretty much all the shows in the West End aren't subsidised. It's really important to have subsidised theatre, but it's really important to have commercial theatre as well and we cannot let it die.

I can make two arguments. One is that the arts brings in an absolute fortune in the UK. We have huge power throughout the world because we disproportionately dominate the music charts, the film industry, the television industry; it's not just our shows that are beloved but our creatives, our actors, they go out and take over the world, and we've always done that. But that's not a guarantee, that could all go away if a generation falls flat - which could happen with this. Then all that tax money that Adele pays, or that I pay, or Cameron Macintosh pays, all that tax money that goes into our economy will disappear.

But that's just the money, and sometimes it's talking people around by talking about the money, but to me that's not the important thing. The important thing is that the arts are beautiful and special, and they are what make us human. Even if it didn't make a penny, I would still say we should have plays, TV and films, and if you don't have the theatre as a training ground and as a testing ground then you don't have film directors and actors or TV directors and actors, or film writers or TV writers. It all cross-pollinates, and if you remove theatre, everything else will collapse.

It would just be such a shame, a tragedy I would say, from the country who gave the world Shakespeare, if, after hundreds of years of being this incredible global force in theatre, we suddenly fell down at the last hurdle now because the Government has agreed a rescue package, but it's not actually getting a rescue package out to the people who need rescuing.

What's been your proudest moment with Everybody's Talking About Jamie?

My proudest moment was before the tour had to close because of Covid, the show was in Northampton, which is my hometown, and I got to see my show on the first stage I ever saw a show on.

I got to go out on the stage at the end and give a little speech and talk to kids from Northampton, which doesn't have the most access to the world of the arts - it's not like growing up in London. Kids from my background, which is comprehensive school family, no money behind you and where no one expects you to succeed in these kind of things, and I could stand there and say, "Look, you can do this - if I can do this, then you can all do it". The audience was full of young people who were dreaming of careers in the arts, which seemed like something you could do a few months ago, and it was wonderful to bring the show home for me, to my home, and I hope inspire a few people not to give up on their dreams.

But, as I say, if we can't get this back on its feet, then there is nowhere for the dreams to go, no matter how hard they work. So, we've got to make sure that we don't let this whole thing just die.

How does it feel to be part of a show that's clearly inspired so many young people?

It's wonderful. It's everything we ever dreamed it could be and could do. Boys like Jamie are real, they exist, they are out there in the world in their millions, but they never get to be heroes of their own story. They might be the gay best friend of the main character or they might be the person that dies tragically in Act Three, but they don't get to win; it's time for those boys to get that voice.

For the girls as well who have fallen in love with Jamie, that's one thing I didn't expect, was how much teenage girls would love Jamie. They aren't thinking, "Oh, it's Harry Styles, one day I could marry him", but just wanting him to be their friend, and I didn't realise that would happen.

It's been so beautiful to see how many people have related to Jamie's story who are literally Jamie. But also, for all those kids who feel they are that kind of effeminate boy who doesn't fit in, now they've got their own superhero. To see the love and the affection that comes at the stage door and from the fans online, it's beautiful.

It's lovely to think there's kids growing up who have got someone to look up to as a role model that didn't exist when me, Dan and Johnny were kids at all. He's not there to be a joke or a punchline or a victim. I hope that fact I know that more shows, films, plays are doing more stuff like that because it's becoming fashionable, but we were there right at the start when it wasn't. Some people thought it was a bit odd that he was the lead, but we always believed that we just had to tell the story right and it would find its audience, and the fact that all these people love it, shows that it has.

So, I'm really proud of the show, but I'm also very proud of our fans for being so open-minded and accepting, tolerant and not just following what other people thought they should do, but actually thinking for themselves.

How did it feel to the audience reacting so positively?

It was lovely watching the audience reactions.

I've had a few Americans, producers and movie people come to watch the show in London. I'd always say to them, you're used to watching shows on Broadway where audiences lose their shit every show every night, London audiences do not normally do this. We've never not had a standing ovation - and I say that with all humility, knowing that one day we probably won't - but so far, fingers crossed, touch wood, we have never not had a standing ovation. To watch an audience, without self-consciousness, just jump up on their feet and start dancing is wonderful.

Jamie goes through this whole journey of moving beyond shame and learning to love and accept himself. So I think he sort of transmits into the audience, so people in their hearts know they don't need to feel embarrassed about standing up, clapping and singing along because that's nothing compared to what this boy has just gone through, and I love him. It's brilliant to see that energy, that love and joy transmit to an audience.

And it all began with me, Dan and Johnny sitting in a series of different rooms and restaurants and bars and in each other's houses talking about the show we wanted to make. If you want to trace back to the roots and figure out why people jump up on their feet every night, watch us chatting for half an hour and you'll see what that original dynamic was that made it happen.

Do you have a favourite song in the show?

"He's My Boy", without a doubt. It was the best song we ever wrote, and it was also the first one we did.

Talk about being hit by lightening - it's a showstopper. A boy says to his mum "I hate you" and walks out the door, and then about an hour later comes back and apologises for being a twat. It's nothing special, it's every teenager and their mum, but in between she sings that song and it turns into something so epic. We don't have a chandelier that crashes down, we don't have barricades to fight on, what we have is a boy who says to his mum, "No wonder Dad left you" - and that one line, the audience literally go, "Oh!" when he says it.

It's a cliché, it's soap opera 101. But I picked a line that was obvious because in that moment you're not trying to be clever or wise, you're just defaulting to a teenage cliché because that's what he's become. It's a thing that's easy to say and hurt someone with, and the emotion in that moment hits the audience and it's so powerful; it surprises me still every time I sit there and feel it. Then Margaret sings that song and Jamie apologises and everyone's in tears and then we have this beautiful happy ending, and everyone goes home dancing. It's kind of extraordinary.

But it's also beautifully special to me, because when I got married I rewrote the lyrics as a surprise for my husband at our wedding. Dan played guitar and I sang the rewritten words especially for him, so that also has a very special place in my heart. It was a one-off performance, no video, just existing for that moment, but I thought that was the most romantic thing I could do.

How do you feel about the upcoming film adaptation?

I'm very excited. Again, it's me, Dan, and Johnny, that's our movie - literally, that's our name above the title on the poster, it's our baby.

They're about to do pick-ups at the moment. We've written a bit of a new song which we're going to shoot the action to go with. They are currently in Sheffield doing their quarantining at the moment, and I would have been there except with the social restrictions and stuff, it was safer for Dan to go up and not interrupt the bubble. But we are virtually involved in all of it.

The trailer looks amazing, and what we shot was brilliant. We have a wonderful cast of kids, and I'm really sorry that I can't be there because I love all our kids, and many of them have then fed into the stage show. We've taken quite a few of the movie cast into the tour and West End, because we found these absolute cracking 18-year-olds who were on no one's casting radar.

Shooting it last year was the most joyful experience. We really did have such a great time. Me and Johnny got a flat together with Dan (he wasn't always there because he was touring in the summer). We were there putting on the same show again - it's kind of amazing.

It's in South Korea at the moment, and then we've got the school's edition coming out, I think next year. So, I'm always rewriting Jamie - I've not stopped writing Jamie now for eight years, every week I have to do something on Jamie.

It must have been really hard to see the West End and touring show temporarily close because of Covid. How have you been coping?

I speak to Nica Burns [from Nimax Theatres] regularly and she is determined that we are going to reopen. We are going to be back - in her mind, it's not a 'if', it's a 'when' - and she's not hanging around waiting for the Government to say you can do this or that, she's spearheading the Government response, she's an absolute fighter.

We are going to come back and that's what we're focused on. Whatever change we have to make for safety and practicality, we will figure out a way of making it the most fun way of changing the show that we can think of. We're trying to figure it all out now, and that's my focus.

I did have a little period of being a bit, "Oh, poor me". But now, it's all about how we get back. The movie is the biggest and best advert for a stage show you could ever hope for and I hope that the deep interest from that, plus pushing for shows to get reopened, means we're going to come back with a bang.

That's how you have to look at it. We can't sit and watch it fall apart, because it's too much of a waste. I don't just mean for us, but so many people haven't seen it yet, and so many people are going to love it when they do, and I want those people to have it. I want someone who's only 10 now, when they're 15, and they don't know what's going on, to be able to go watch the show and think, "I don't feel shit about myself now because I watched that".

A friend of mine's son who's 13, he's only come out very recently and he's seen the show six times. My friend said to me, "It's saved him". His son was getting suicidal, they didn't know why, they couldn't work it out, he went to therapy and it finally came out that he was gay. My friend was like, "That's brilliant, now I know what to do, I was worried it was something bad", and he said the show saved him. And I think that's just one person I know - that can't be the only person - so we have to get it back there.

Without being preachy in any way, which if you've seen the show, you'll know it's not like an after-school special, the message it has is a very simple one, which is be nice to people, let's just be nice to each other. And there's people who that message really matters for; I worry about them and I want them to all have Jamie as their role model, Pritti as their best friend, and Margaret as their Mum. Not everyone has a Mum like Margaret, and I know fans who see the show and feel like Margaret becomes their mum - and why not? What a brilliant mum. If you've got to imagine a mom, have Margaret, because Margaret Campbell is an astonishing woman, and Margaret New, although fictional, is equally astonishing in slightly different ways.

I want people who feel that they're a bit lost to know that there are plenty of Margaret Campbells in the world, and Jamies and Prittis. It's a story of hope and of keeping on going. So, we have to come back so that people don't give up hope.

Why should people buy tickets to the Everybody's Talking About Jamie virtual reunion?

Firstly, because this is a really worthwhile cause - it's supporting and awareness raising. That's my kind of grown-up answer, that's the thing I should say.

The other reason is, it's going to be really good fun, and will make you laugh. And if you're lucky, we might be indiscreet about something and you'll get some good gossip from behind the scenes!

You'll get to find out about how shows are really made by three guys who'd never done it before, and we're still making it up as we go along. We just chanced it and bullshitted our way through, and if you watch us, you'll get a sense of if we can do it, you can do it - and we'll entertain you and have a good laugh, which is what we need at the moment.

One Night Only Everybody's Talking About Jamie Reunion will take place on 4 September. Tickets are £10 with all profits going to Acting For Others. You can book your tickets here.

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