Getting to dress-up must be one of the most fun elements of an actor’s life, and in that respect John Partridge is certainly relishing his new role playing Hugo, aka frustrated drag artiste Loco Chanelle, in the new tour of hit musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. “I’ve tried on Loco’s undergarb so far- the padding and the corsets- and I’m looking forward to it. I always like characters that are transformative,” John says, when we speak during the first week of rehearsals. His one concern is with Loco’s vertiginous heels. “I have worn heels, but these are extraordinary. So I have been actually teetering around in them at home- I answered the door to the builders in them this morning!”
For John, who became a household name playing Christian in Eastenders, the show is a perfect entrée back into musical theatre after having major surgery on his vocal cords, which made it “touch and go for quite some time as to whether I’d be able to even speak again”. “My role is small and perfectly formed,” he says of Hugo, the dress shop owner who becomes a mentor to the show’s titular hero as he makes his first steps in drag- and rediscovers his own performing passion in the process. The show has been a huge hit since it first premiered in Sheffield in 2017, running in the West End for multiple years and inspiring a film adaptation, and John says “there is something very comforting about stepping into this Jamie juggernaut”, while on top of that, the production already feels “very family”. “I know that’s a word that’s thrown around all the time, and actually it’s often a lie, it’s something we say to give that impression,” he laughs. “But this really is like that. It’s to do with the feeling of the piece- there’s something very grounding about it.”
As for his character, John says he has really connected on a personal level with Hugo and his poignant journey. “There are not that many parts written for a mid-50’s gay man.” he says, adding that “[like Hugo] I’m at the moment in my life where I’m fully aware of what is behind me as opposed to what’s in front of me- of my fleeting successes and my failures and disappointments.” It has to be said, though, that John is being pretty hard on himself, given the amount of success he’s had. On stage, he has been dazzling audiences ever since appearing in the original UK tour of CATS, aged just 16, giving showstopping performances in Cabaret, La Cage Aux Folles and many more, and as Christian, he became a favourite of Eastenders fans, while providing important representation as an out-and-proud gay character on primetime TV.
Indeed, he thinks Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has been such a success because it has the “mass appeal” of soap operas like Eastenders. “It is a story about Jamie, but it’s also got this really wide breath of very well crafted characters that you see in your daily life. You live with them in your own homes, on your own streets.” What’s more, he says, he couldn’t be prouder to be involved in a show that, in telling the story of a gay teenager, flies the flag for the LGBTQ+ community. “We see this massive push against LGBTQIA+ hard won freedoms, and they are hard won freedoms…and that’s why it’s really important for us right now to be able to get out there and tell this story. And that fact that people *love* this show gives me hope. It shows me there is a way through.”
Tickets for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie are available to buy on the Wales Millennium Centre, so go get yours now!