Book: Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott
Director: Ian Talbot
Reviewer: Gemma Fincher
Everyone’s favourite Australian theatrical export is back and it’s bigger, bolder and brighter than ever. Produced by Jason Donovan (who starred in the West End production of the show) Priscilla Queen of the Desert is currently spreading the glitter and glamour across the country on its recently launched UK tour.
The musical, like the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert follows three larger than life drag queens as they make their way across the Australian outback to Alice Springs aboard their battered old bus Priscilla. 2017 Strictly champion Joe McFadden takes up the principal role of drag queen Tick (Mitzi Mitosis) whose estranged wife summons him back to provincial Australia to meet his son for the first time. He is accompanied by his friends and fellow drag queens, old-timer Bernadette (Miles Western) and the outrageous Felicia (Nick Hayes). Their journey Down Under throws up some unexpected experiences including facing blatant and frightening homophobia contrasted with pure human kindness and tolerance. Priscilla is set against a soundtrack of some of the most iconic disco tracks including It’s Raining Men, Finally and I Will Survive, with the whole show a burst of colour, fun and frolics.
Joe McFadden brings a charming vulnerability to Tick, torn between living as his authentic self and his family responsibilities back home. His warmth in the role is a delight and his cheery and cheeky personality shines through. He also makes an incredibly convincing drag queen. He handles the choreography with ease and showcases some fine vocals. McFadden brings the humour in abundance but equally does justice to the more emotional and serious moments in the show.
Nick Hayes is wonderfully camp and vivacious as the outrageously provocative Felicia. Completely unapologetic, he has no qualms about confronting anyone with bigoted views, an attitude that unfortunately earns him a severe beating as a result. This is where the show moves into slightly darker territory, highlighting the dangers and risks of encountering violent homophobia for just being yourself. Hayes is a wonderful performer with a magnetic stage presence and steals every scene he is in. His opening number of Venus is incredibly effervescent and flamboyant, wonderfully supported by the talented male ensemble, with Jordan Cunningham particularly standing out (look out for his hilarious antics in Act Two).
Tick’s charming naivety and Felicia’s laissez-faire attitude are complemented delightfully by the character of Bernadette who brings experience and serenity to proceedings. Miles Western could not be better suited to the role of Bernadette; a consummate professional, he is clearly the glue that holds both the cast and the narrative together. Bernadette has been around the block, knows suffering and a burgeoning relationship with wonderfully open-minded mechanic Bob (Daniel Fletcher) is both endearing and incredibly touching in equal measure.
There is no shortage of vocal prowess with the three Divas made up of Claudia Kariuki, Rosie Glossop and Aiesha Pease bringing exorbitant amounts of sass and even bigger performances as they raise the iconic soundtrack to new heights. Priscilla also features an incredibly hard-working ensemble. Tom Jackson-Greaves’ choreography, whilst undeniably impressive, is complex and incredibly physically demanding. The intensity of the movement and the insanely quick changes required in this show is breathtaking and the ensemble deserves every second of their rapturous curtain call. Priscilla is a high-octane production where big and consistent performances are needed night after night, the level of energy required to sustain such a tempo cannot be underestimated and the whole cast makes it look effortless.
It’s always difficult with a touring production to produce innovative staging design, with the bus being such a focal point of the narrative, it’s a little disappointing that more isn’t made of her. Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith’s design feels a little two-dimensional here but the shortfalls are mitigated through the vibrancy of the costumes and the toe-tapping soundtrack which make for a visual and auditory feast.
As Priscilla sashays its way across the UK, it will no doubt bring delight to swathes of audiences if the reaction of Milton Keynes Theatre is anything to go by. Behind the stilettos, glitter and the insanely catchy and familiar soundtrack, Priscilla is a story of acceptance that also delivers a lesson in tolerance, love and friendship.
Runs until 5 October 2019 and on tour Image: Contributed