Home / Drama / Priscilla Queen of the Desert – New Theatre, Oxford

Priscilla Queen of the Desert – New Theatre, Oxford

Writers: Stephan Elliott &Alan Scott

Director: Simon Phillips

Reviewer: Mary Tapper


It is quite hard to describe the story of this musical without spoiling elements of the tale. Suffice it to say that it follows the fortunes of two drag queens and a transsexual, journeying across the outback from Sydney to Alice Springs to honour a special booking there. The bus they buy for the journey is the eponymous Priscilla, and as tempers fray and plans go awry, we explore both people’s attitude to the group and their emotions and relationships. We also get a lot of fabulous and colourful numbers that will put a smile on your face and add sparkle to the night!

I suspect that theatregoers will be split into two camps by this touring production. Having seen the show in London, with a huge revolving bus at its heart, aglow with pink lights and dominating the stage, it is hard not to feel a little short changed by the transformation for the tour. Here we get a frame of a vehicle with a few laser screens and lights and no shoe for the top – surely one of the iconic images of the film and show in London! Still, despite this, the heart of the show is still strong and the sheer enthusiasm and class of the cast shines through to sweep us along so that Priscilla becomes something of an afterthought.

Jason Donovan makes a slightly portly Tick, but looks like he is truly having a whale of a time and delivers songs well, with subtle delivery adding to the pathos of the numbers. Richard Grieve excels as Bernadette and has lovely chemistry with Bob, played with gentlemanly charm by Giles Watling. Their rendition of A Fine Romance is one of the many musical highlights of the show and with Graham Weaver completing the line up as the sexy Felicia, the show is packed with talent. Mentions too for the divas that descend to blast us with superb vocals, a superb orchestra and the magnificent Alan Hunter, providing an entertaining rendition of Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got To Do With It?

As you can see from above the musical highlights are plentiful and varied. The show bowls along at good pace and, with slick and imaginative choreography, we are swept along on a journey of discovery and entertainment. With an excellent story at its heart the musical hangs together well and despite cuts at the end it feels like we have reached a natural end and are very satisfied with the result.

Costumes are exuberant and downright mad. Where else can you see dancing cup cakes, lizards and kangaroos on a dark winter’s night? The sound quality throughout is excellent, with singers miked up and levels adjusted so that lyrics can easily be heard. The orchestra provides excellent arrangements of hit after hit that we all recognise – this feels like a big show where it matters, despite having a rather small bus! The sound track including It’s Raining Men, I Say a Little Prayer, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, to name but a few, is truly infectious and imaginatively varied: a veritable jukebox of delights!

However, it is worth mentioning that this is not a production for those who are strait-laced or easily offended. Dancing and outfits are quite risqué and one scene in particular is not really suitable for small children and may leave parents with some explaining to do! The crowd in Oxford loved it all and lapped up the sexy dancing and glistening bodies on display!

It seems petty to mention, but there were a couple of tiny slips here and there technically. While lighting was excellent, mikes were occasionally switched on too late, and one costume change behind a whisked curtain went slightly awry, but at the beginning of the run these things can be overlooked. The cast sing and strut and camp it up with great energy throughout, so that by the end of the show the audience are on their feet, showing their appreciation. Grab a ticket and jump aboard!

Runs until 2nd March


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One comment

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    This Show was brilliant, funny and moving great song and dance and with the odd bit of smut thrown in as in the original film totally amazing. You have to see it