Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Book: Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott

Director: Ian Talbot

Reviewer: Dan English

Joe McFadden brings the Outback to Dartford in this production of the musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which kick-started its UK tour in the Kent town.

The production sees Tick, McFadden, head to the Outback with two fellow performers as he aims to bring his drag act to the depths of rural Australia, as well as meet his son for the first time. This is a story that continues to have warmth and heart at its core, and it’s this that the new touring production has placed emphasis upon.

This particular production has made some alterations from the original and long-running tour versions, and focuses on the central message of tolerance and respect, something that Tick and his friends struggle to gain from a conservative rural Australian community. This message does, ultimately, shine through, but it’s odd that the show still relies on certain stereotypes when it’s aim is to squash them. Laugh with them, rather than at them? Perhaps. But there are a few gags which seemed to just miss the mark.

McFadden works hard as Tick / Mitzi and there is genuine emotion and warmth felt when he is reunited with his son in Act 2. There are opportunities for McFadden to show off his singing and dance skills, both areas which appear easy and comfortable for McFadden.

Alongside Tick is Bernadette, performed by Miles Western. Western fills his portrayal with the pomp and glamour expected of the character, and her introduction is one of Act One’s standout moments. Western’s assured performance contrasts the excitable deliveries of those around him, creating an interesting and unique portrayal of the character.

Rounding off the trio is Nick Hayes’ outrageous Adam / Felicia. Hayes’ flamboyance is a good antidote to the seriousness which can dominate some of the show’s quieter scenes, yet there is a real tenderness when Adam has to come to terms which how he fits into a society struggling to accept shifts in societal sexual norms. Hayes owns the stage and routines he stars in, and looks at ease when switching between personas on stage.

Supporting the trio are a hard-working ensemble who tirelessly enhance all routines and key moments from across the production. The energy helps to drive the narrative message through, but the ensemble shoud be credited for the zip and fun brought to some of the show’s livelier moments.

The production is stripped back without extensive set designs, which enable the talented ensemble to perform a range of demanding routines throughout. As expected, the bus named Priscilla takes centre stage, and the design really does compliment Ian Talbot’s direction, particularly when homophobic abuse is plastered across the trio’s motorhome. In a production littered with flamboyant concepts and ideas, the subtlety of the design does aid to focus the attention of the emotions of the characters.

This new touring version, with its toe-tapping soundtrack continues to hit some of the heights of its predecessors which it’ll inevitably be compared to. This is a tamer production of the story, but the message and heart still remains.

Runs until 14 September 2019 | Image:  

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