AdaptationMusicalNorth East & YorkshireReview

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent

Director: Ian Talbot

Musical Director: Sean Green

Choreographer: Tom Jackson Greaves

In an age where stories surrounding LGBTQ issues are peppered into our regular soap operas, where you’d be hard pressed to meet anyone who hasn’t heard of the ubiquitous RuPaul Charles, or seen any of his internationally popular ‘drag race’ it’s humbling to celebrate the fact that the original film of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is now 25 years old. The film was bold and beautiful, revelling in the frocks, sequins and lip synching but didn’t shy away from the uglier side of homophobia and transphobia, not to mention the inner struggles of those seeking to understand themselves. The film paved the way for so many storytellers since (indeed, RuPaul’s new Netflix show AJ and the Queen frequently honours Priscilla) and Mark Goucher’s new take on the stage musical, based on the film is still flying the flag and dancing the dance.

Drag performer Mitzi Mitosis embarks on a journey across Australia to put on a special show in his wife’s casino and finally meet his young son. He strong-arms fellow performers, and warring queens Bernadette and Felicia into joining him for a once in a lifetime performance.

This is a story that is about the journey rather than the destination so the performers must rapidly shift from glamorous stage presentation to the rough and ready comfortable attire suitable for a lengthy road trip in the Australian outback. One brilliant timesaving trick is to use plastic eye masks to immediately apply and remove the extravagant drag make up. While this is undoubtedly a great fix to a tricky problem the use of masks does sometimes cause a moment of disconnect as it is made all the more difficult to really see and access the performances.

The quality of the dancing is impeccable with the ensemble moving between dance styles from classic disco through to some beautiful balletic moments. Overall the tone of the choreography is surprisingly contemporary, as though attempting to provide more storytelling than serve purely as dance. It is occasionally a little jarring and can actually become too difficult to see what one is looking at as moments are often aggressive against some of the more playful numbers.

A few technical hitches in this performance meant a slightly delayed start time, and sadly a couple of minor troubles further prolonged the evening resulting in a slightly later finish time than anticipated. While these were singular difficulties, it is a consideration for a production that is adjusting to new venues so frequently.

Joe McFadden leads the cast as Tick/Mitzi. Anyone who saw his 2017 Strictly Come Dancing victory won’t be surprised by his incredible dancing, but they may be surprised by his pleasing singing voice. His performance is only let down by a few prolonged periods of looking down. Perhaps there is a technical consideration that was affecting his performance but he often seems distracted. It may not help that is was book-ended by two brilliant performances from Miles Western and Justin-Lee Jones. Western portrays the role of Bernadette, the veteran performer and transgendered woman, with a dry wit and a genuine elegance. Jones stepped into the role of Felicia/Adam for this particular performance and delivered a riotous turn as the young, fun loving queen (role played by Nick Hayes for the tour). Special mention must be made of Kevin Yates as Miss Understanding who tackles good-natured heckling with ease and efficiency, a true queen.

With so much miserable weather and the New Year blues still lingering, the cure is undoubtedly a trip to Australia in the company of some fabulous drag queens against a killer soundtrack of pop and disco classics. While rough around the edges, the heart and humour of the show shines through and sell the performance – in spite of minor niggles.

Runs until 7th March 2020

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