Layton Williams interview: Why the star of Everybody's Talking About Jamie is thrilled to bring the hit musical to Leeds
The hit musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie comes to Leeds Grand Theatre next month. Abbey Maclure catches up with the show's star Layton Williams.
Layton Williams is back on the road touring the award-winning musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie.
The feel-good show, which sees Layton take on the role of Jamie New, will come to Leeds next month - and Layton is thrilled to be back in a city which is close to his heart.
Layton was a child of the theatre, landing his first role in Billy Elliot: The Musical aged just 12.
And it was in Leeds where he learned how to command the stage, after spending several months training at the city's Billy Elliot Academy.
"I've toured so many times since I graduated, but I’ve still never been to Leeds on tour," the 27-year-old told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
“Leeds is where I learned how to perform, I'd come up from Manchester every weekend to do ballet classes, singing and acting.
"I'm so excited to finally be back.”
Layton landed his role in Everybody's Talking About Jamie in 2019, which has recommenced its tour after it was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The hit musical, which will run at Leeds Grand Theatre from November 2-7, follows a 16-year-old teenager as he overcomes prejudice, beats the bullies and steps out of the darkness to become a drag queen.
Layton said: “People can expect to be taken on a journey - to have a good laugh and a good cry. Bring your tissues, because there are times when things get emotional and dramatic.
"Expect to be entertained and have your heart opened to hope, possibility and dreams. And spreading a whole load of love.”
The musical is based on the true story of County Durham's Jamie Campbell, whose plight to attend his school prom in drag was the subject of BBC documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 in 2011.
“I can relate to the character in many ways," Layton added.
"Being a queer boy myself who grew up in a council estate, there are many parallels with the character - I can see where Jamie is been and where he will be going. And it’s amazing to play characters that can inspire people, especially marginalised groups.
“Jamie is very vulnerable in some ways. Yes, he’s fierce and confident, but there’s a layer of vulnerability underneath that. Even by the end of the show, he’s still figuring himself out and learning through the journey.
“He’s got a dream, like lots of people do at a young age, and he just wants the people around him to support him."
The star-studded cast includes Eastenders star Shane Richie, who plays Roy Haylock, and Coronation Street's Shobna Gulati who re-joins the cast to play Ray.
The national tour is well underway and the reaction has been "extra special", Layton said, as theatres fill up with people after months of closure during lockdowns.
He added: "The response has been fab, there’s not been a night where we haven’t had the audience up on their feet.
"It’s been magical and people are so appreciative to be back in the theatre, you can really sense that."
While the show promises high heels, high kicks, drag queens, feather boas and big musical numbers, it carries a deeper message that Layton hopes will encourage people to be kind to one another.
“I know the impact it’s had on queer kids," he said.
"In the last show, we had a mini legend in the audience in a full-on gown and a wig - what other show do kids feel completely free to be able to do that?
"The messages, fan-mail and emails we get are overwhelming. It’s more than just a show, it can change people’s lives. It’s special.”
And it's not just younger people who can benefit from the themes of inclusion in the show, Layton said.
He has had messages from older people who have said the show has helped them to come out, or to better understand their children.
“Hopefully it helps people to think twice before they speak", Layton added.
"People love to run on about #BeKind, but are we actively being kind, or calling things out when we see it?
“We’re all beautifully different and unique in this world, so it would be such a shame if we were all the same."
Inspiring young performers to follow their dreams
As Layton tours the country with Everybody's Talking About Jamie, he'll be inspiring young people to develop their theatre skills through a series of workshops.
Layton is the director of Pros from the Shows, which provides dance workshops with industry professionals at schools, colleges and universities.
“We lead the workshops around the country for young people to develop and have new experiences," Layton said.
“It's a chance to come along and dance with me, and hopefully inspire you to do what you want to do in the industry."
Layton shared his advice for aspiring young actors.
“Keep an open mind and keep on reaching for your dreams," he said.
"If it can happen to a little boy from a council estate like me, it can happen to you too.”
'Nothing beats the live theatre buzz'
Layton made his theatre debut in Billy Elliot: The Musical aged 12, and is the second longest-running 'Billy' in the show's history.
He is best known for starring as Stephen Carmichael alongside Jack Whitehall in the hit BBC comedy Bad Education, as well as playing the role of Kylie in BBC Two's Beautiful People.
But it's on stage where Layton feels most at home.
His theatre credentials include playing Angel in the UK tour of the musical Rent, starring as Seaweed in Hairspray and featuring in the touring production of Matthew Bourne's The Car Man.
“I don’t think anything can beat the live theatre buzz," Layton said.
"The adrenaline pumps through you and no matter what’s going on, whether you’re tired, you drop a prop or you miss a line, the show must go on.
“It’s electric and you can feel the audience latch onto everything you say; whether they’re laughing, crying or on their feet. As much as I love TV and film, you can never beat a live theatre performance.”
As theatres battle for survival following the pandemic, Layton said shows have taken on a new role in bringing smiles to people's faces.
He added: “We’ll have you dancing away and singing out of the theatre.
“If you want to be entertained for your first show back, it has to be Everybody's Talking About Jamie - because let’s be honest, everybody is!”
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