MusicalReviewSouth West

Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Bristol Hippodrome

Writers: Stephan Elliot, Allan Scott
Director: Simon Phillips
Co-Choreographers: Ross Coleman and Andrew Hallsworth
Reviewer:Chris Oldham

Based on the 1994 cult Australian film, Priscilla Queen of the Desert begins inside a glitter ball, exploding onto the stage in a carnival of colour and light.

It tells the story of two drag queens Tick/Mitzi (Duncan James), and Adam/Felicia (Adam Bailey), and a transsexual woman Bernadette (Simon Green) as they travel from their relatively safe haven of Sydney to Alice Springs for a four-week stint in a local casino. Rather than fly, they decide to drive the whole way in a bejazzled bus, a journey which sees them encounter fear, homophobia, ping-pong-ball-firing mail-order brides, and lots and lots of disco.

Fans of the film will be happy to know that all the best lines are accounted for, as is the music, with writers Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, and Director Simon Phillips, choosing to stick closely to the original path Elliott forged 22 years ago on screen.

For such a big production, the design is deceptively simple, with Priscilla, the bus, acting as the centrepiece, while the cast comes and goes around her dressed as everything from ostriches to cupcakes. Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s costumes are a marvel, as is the rate in which the cast tears through their changes, make-up and all.

Determined to prove that it’s much more than just a cash-in, Priscilla, the musical, packs in more glitz, glamour, and spectacle that the film. Green beautifully maintains the lonely pathos of ageing showgirl Bernadette, and Bailey’s soaring voice alone ensures that Felicia is far more than just a caricature. James meanwhile, could not be further from his days in a pop band. Since the real reason the three of them are travelling cross-country is so that he can meet his son, in many ways Tick is the anchor of the story. As the less flamboyant character of the three, therefore, it’s a tougher act to pitch, and one, at times that James struggles slightly with, seeming much more comfortable when full drag is applied.

With so much sparkle, Priscilla invariably loses some of its predecessor’s tone. There is nothing subtle here, nothing too deep, nothing too dark. While the film dealt with the difficult, sometimes frightening homophobic attitudes of Australia in the mid-nineties, shining a light on Sydney’s drag scene, and coaxing a weighty, award-winning performance from its undoubted star, Terence Stamp, the musical, perhaps wisely, goes for a simpler approach. Anything our feisty, proud heroes and heroine come up against is never anything more that a swift, hard kick in the crotch and another costume change can’t fix.

The cleverest thing about Priscilla may, in fact, be that stalwart fans of the film aside, it can bring in an audience who might not normally watch two hours of drag, and send them on their way having loved every fabulous second if it.

Runs until 11 June 2016 | Image:Paul Coltas


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