MusicalNorth East & Yorkshire

Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Lyceum, Sheffield

Writer: Stephan Elliot, Allan Scott

Director: Simon Phillips

Reviewer: Ruth Jepson

I’m so excited I’ve had to contain myself with gaffer tape

And so, the tone is set for Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Three friends and fellow performers, Mitzi (Jason Donovan) and Felicia (Adam Bailey), both drag queens, and Bernadette (Simon Green), a transwoman (rather outdatedly referred to as a tranny throughout) set off across Australia on a chaotic journey to meet an estranged child, find love, and bring drag from Sydney to Ayres Rock.

Donovan leads a fantastic cast, and the audience enters expecting some star-powered singing. And he delivers in this respect. His co-stars however, far outclass him when it comes to dancing. Donovan looks far too awkwardly masculine, even in a giant dress, to ever fully convince us of his character. Thank heck for the incredible camp enthusiasm of Bailey (his rendition of Venus complete with Spartan-esque dancing boys is pure sexual perfection) and the classiness of Green, who effortlessly adds a dollop of old world glamour to shaking his (literal) tail feathers.

Those feathers are shaking to some pretty fabulous songs – all the camp classics such as Go West, Boogie Wonderland and, of course, I Will Survive. A soundtrack guaranteed to get the audience on their feet clapping and singing along, especially in the finale. The views are spectacular, with crazy colourful costumes by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner. It is very easy to see why they have won Oliver and Tony Awards for the magnificent drag dresses (look out for the paintbrushes and the cheerleader boots). The lighting by Nick Shlieper gives some much-needed nightclub glitz, and the LED-clad tour bus itself Priscilla, designed by Brian Thomson, is a character in its own right.

Overall, Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a fun night out, which leaves you with a smile on your face. But it is starting to feel somewhat dated. Although the themes – gender, sexuality, and broken families – are all very relevant and worth discussing, the show suffers from its caricatures. While drag will never go out of style, an update is needed to a lot of characters and language use to stop it drifting too far into embarrassingly old fashioned. In a couple of years’ time, who knows? For now, though it’s kitsch entertainment, and an enjoyable girls night out, whatever your gender.

Runs until Saturday 28 May 2016 | Image:Paul Coltas

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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  1. would have been good if I had been told Saturday wouldn’t star any of the named actors

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