Director: Simon Phillips
Co-Choreographers: Ross Coleman and Andrew Hallsworth
Reviewer: Dan English
There’s plenty of disco Down Under as Priscilla Queen of the Desert stops at Dartford as part of its U.K. tour.
The Simon Phillips directed production follows two drag queens and a transgender woman as they travel across the desert, with the trio encountering a number of individuals and prejudices along the way. Although a comedy – musical, this production certainly hits messages relevant in modern society with the acceptance and attitudes to members of the LGBT community.
This is a production full of constantly impressing choreography, designed by the late Ross Coleman and Andrew Hallsworth, with the cast delivering this perfectly. The energy that is required by the choreography is matched by the incredible energy levels of the entire cast, which makes this show a pacey, punchy two and a half hours.
Duncan James is Mitzi, a man struggling to fully embrace his life as a drag queen as he battles being estranged from his son. James brings a certain razzmatazz to this role, pulling on his performance background to execute the advanced choreography successfully. James is essential in driving this plot forward and it is a testament to his consistency that at no point does his character begin to tire, nor the show itself.
Simon Green is Bernadette, a formidable elder stateswoman of the drag queen scene. Green is superb in this role striking the right balance between sincerity and exuberance. His character’s vicious wit is performed well as Green fully revels in the outrageousness and exaggerating nature of his role. What is most enjoyable about Green’s performance is his versatility to convey a number of emotions throughout. Green contrasts his fantastic comic timing with moments of intense emotion that perhaps is highlighted more so because of the show’s jovial atmosphere, yet it is impressive nevertheless. This is no more evident than the emotional struggle Green’s Bernadette goes through during the burgeoning romance with mechanic Bob (Philip Childs).
Adam Bailey is ferocious in his overly cooked flamboyant drag queen Felicia, a symbol of the new scene dominating the Australian setting. Bailey’s viciousness in his character’s putdowns is well levelled and allows the character to be rightly both enamoured and irritated by him. Bailey too is slick in his delivery of the choreography, with a highlight being his eyebrow-raising entrance. While James and Green are more subtle in their characterisation, Bailey’s is overhyped in a way that does not seem false and his exaggerated energetic self more than compensates for the sophisticated pair.
As impressive as the leading trio is the sensational singing Divas (Lisa-Marie Holmes, Laura Mansell, Catherine Mort) that provide much of the more challenging vocals throughout. The three have a versatile range from 80s disco to stirring opera and their interludes and interjections more of a treat than a toil. A mention must also go to the excellent Julie Yammanee, who is Cynthia, Bob’s promiscuous wife, with Yammanee’s cameo in this production a treat.
The production is famed for its soundtrack and the live arrangements of these disco classics are well orchestrated by musical director Matthew J Loughran. It is difficult not to tap along as the soundtrack gets into full flow and the orchestra provided a live music treat in this show, with the vocals executed accordingly. It’s refreshing to hear original takes on classic disco songs, such as ‘I Say A Little Prayer, but its a testament to the musicians that these original takes slot perfectly into this show and never fail to rouse a positive reaction.
Justin Nardella’s set design is as glitzy as is expected and this is boosted by the extraordinary costumes designed by Lizzy Gardiner. Not only does it bring the heart of Australia to a Dartford stage, but it also adds to the sparkle that this show provides. What is also impressive about Nardella’s set is its manipulability, striking the right balance between a authentic backdrop while not limiting the perfomers’ performance space.
Yes this is cheesy and yes this is utterly outrageous but there is a lot of heart in this production with its messages of tolerance and rising above hate much needed in this current climate. It’s two and a half hours of fun that strikes a chord with its message, as well as its toe-tapping soundtrack.
Runs until 30 April 2016 | Image:Paul Coltas