Since taking on the title role in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, the hit West End musical that is coming to Edinburgh as part of its first UK tour, Layton Williams has been having a lot of fun. The Northern England actor made the role his own three years after the film, based on a true story about a 16-year-old boy who seeks salvation by becoming a drag queen, came out.
In the musical by Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae in early 2019, Williams took over the part from his friend John McCrea and performed it in the West End for a year prior to the current six-month tour. However, having played leading roles on stage since the age of 12, Williams is conscious that adolescents can not play forever.
“I’m almost 26,” he says, sounding much younger. “I think after this, it might be time to stop playing a 16-year-old.”
As he reconsiders, his mind does a fast backflip.
“You know what?” he asks. “People say if you can do it, why not? I’m going to take advantage of it as best I can.”
The attitude of Williams is a great example of the mix that fills him with boyishness, passion and unbridled ambition. That’s how it’s been since he went to his first Billy Elliot Musical audition nearly 15 years ago. Maybe when he first began acting at Carol Godby’s Theatre Workshop in Bury, it was there. However, it was Billy Elliot who changed everything.
“There was an advertisement in the paper, and my mother said I should give it a try, so I did, and we had this day in Manchester. When I got the part, it taught me how to be Layton, how to walk and talk. My whole working world came from that show, and running a show at that age was amazing. Whenever I get nervous now, I look back and think, I’ve done this before, it’ll be fine.”
With each sentence laced with a twinkle and an exclamation point-shaped cherry on top, Williams sounds as ebullient as a Hollywood veteran at times. The excitement undoubtedly carried him through the longest run of any performer to date in Billy Elliot, for someone who has been immersed in one form of high-level theater or another since the age of twelve.
“Billy Elliot was one of those shows that everyone knew, even if they didn’t see it. It came out before there was Netflix or anything, but absolutely everyone had heard of it, and it was so much fun to make.”
Before playing dance-loving schoolboy Stephen in Jack Whitehall’s classroom comedy Poor Education, Williams took a leading role in the TV comedy-drama Beautiful People after Billy Elliot wrapped up.
Before touring in Hairspray, he then took the stage in Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man. Williams then took on the part of tragic drag queen Angel in the New York musical Rent’s 20th anniversary tour.
“Playing Angel was a real confidence booster for me,” he says. “Directing a show as an adult was really important.”
And so to Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which discusses all-too-current differential problems, teen bullying, and the attempts of Jamie to express himself through drag.
“I think it’s an important show because it’s about people accepting you for who you are and how that can change things. That’s especially the case with everything that’s going on in the country right now. It’s the perfect show to spread a little love and find a little happiness.”
Williams doesn’t let up for a second in the film.
“I just bring the whole me to it,”I just bring the whole of me to it. “I live the life of Jamie every night on stage. There’s laughter, tears, everything, and I give my whole life to it eight times a week and bring my laytonness to it.”
Williams’ determination is unwavering, both in terms of the subject matter and the perseverance it takes, and he talks about the experience like the experienced professional he is.
“It’s challenging in every way to do this. It’s been nice to see that I can run a show and do it skillfully. I always saw this in my future, but I never thought it would be on this show, so now I get to show people what I’m made of. I haven’t had that kind of responsibility since I did Billy Elliot, so that’s nice.”
Pros from the Shows, the supertitle of a series of dance workshops he provides on the tour in each city outside of his starring role in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, is one of the things for which Williams is also responsible. The purpose of the seminars that he is putting together