ComedyMusicalReviewSouth West

Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Reviewer: James McColl

Book: Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott

Director: Ian Talbot

Choreographer: Tom Jackson-Greaves

Following the continued success of the UK Drag scene, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert owes as much of its popularity to its cinematic predecessor (released 25 years ago) as it does to Rupaul. The ultimate camp romp musical, Priscilla follows two drag queens (Joe McFadden as Tick/Mitzi & Nick Hayes as Adam/Felicia) and a Transgender woman (Miles Western as Bernadette) as they travel through the Australian outback to Alice Springs. Though separated, Tick’s wife Marion (Miranda Wilford) wants their young son to finally meet Tick and for the trio to perform at her casino. Bernadette and Felicia have their own reasons for going, Bernadette is struggling to cope with the passing of her young husband while Felicia wants to be the first drag queen in full frock to stand on Ayres Rock singing Kylie Minogue’s back catalogue.

Proven to be as much of a hit with theatre lovers as with the LGBTQ community, Priscilla is an ode to drag and over-the-top showbiz musicals. Its enduring message of positivity, self-acceptance and friendship make Priscilla a feel-good story that handles the often gruelling reality of the characters lives with confidence and class. Characters like Bernadette are given the dignity and depth they deserve in no short order. Hayes is a stand out performer, bringing an unstoppable and undeniable energy to all his scenes, songs and dance numbers.

Some audiences may find it hard to get fully behind Priscilla as aspects of the narrative do not date well – the character of Cynthia has long been a controversial one. Despite this, the story translates exceptionally well to stage with the inclusion of singers shadowing each drag queen (as they lip-sync) being one of the many welcome additions. The ensemble cast helps elevate the show further, with the pop song backdrop making for a very appetising cherry on top of an already delicious cake. When in full swing, it is a non-stop spectacle – an assault of dazzling costumes, tunes and choreography on the senses.

Late in act II, a redundant ‘sped up’ montage of changing costumes and flailing arms deflates the room slightly who had been fully on board up until this point. There is also a sharp turn towards sentimentality in the second act that doesn’t always feel earned. An underutilised Miss Understanding (Kevin Yates) sees her hosting duties cut short after her opening number; a missed opportunity to capitalise on a fiercely funny performance. Despite these issues, this latest incarnation has all the lavish bells and whistles one would hope, filled with top talented singers, dancers and performers. For fans of both musicals and drag, Priscilla will not disappoint. Anyone wanting a glitter-fueled road trip with fantastic music and brutal one-liners would be advised not to miss it.

Runs until: 25 January 2020 | Image: Contributed

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Glitter-fueled road trip

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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One Comment

  1. Priscilla Queen of the desert is a fabulous show
    This year the cast is Even better than 2016 cast

    Joe McFadden is a fabulous actor

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