Priscilla Queen Of The Desert – The Musical

Nov 6 2019 | By More

★★★☆☆      Shimmering

Playhouse: Tue 5 – Sat 9 Nov 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is enough flash and dazzling costume changes in Priscilla Queen Of The Desert to convince all but the most curmudgeonly.

Adapted by Stephan Elliot and Allan Scott into a jukebox musical from Elliot’s film about two drag queens and a trans woman who travel across Australia in a bus named Priscilla, the show is undoubtedly a riot of colour, glitter and music.

Miles Western, Joe McFadden and Nick Hayes. PIc: Darren Bell

Previously, Jason Donovan – one of the producers this time round – was the star. In this production, the biggest name is former Holby City actor and Strictly Come Dancing winner Joe McFadden. Accordingly, he takes the central role of Tick, whose desire to see his son in Alice Springs is the cause of the whole road trip.

While he is undoubtedly an engaging presence, McFadden could hardly be said to dominate the stage. He is not a natural drag performer and his Australian accent is somewhat iffy. His singing is certainly good enough, but his diffident dancing does not seem designed to win any more contests in the near future.

He is comprehensively outshone by Nick Hayes as the brash, over-confident Adam, and by Miles Western as Bernadette (returning to the stage after the untimely death of her younger partner) who is tremendously poised and nuanced. Western often echoes Terence Stamp’s performance in the film, but this is no bad thing, and the characterisation is spot on.

Miss Understanding

There are further starry performances throughout the ensemble, with Kevin Yates’s early turn as Miss Understanding particularly effective. Daniel Fletcher gives Bob, the down-to-earth mechanic who takes a shine to Bernadette, a wonderfully unshowy and emotionally centred portrayal.

The Priscilla Queen of the Desert company. Pic: Darren Bell

This unexaggerated emotion provides an effective contrast to the parade of glitz on display. Charles Cusick-Smith and Phil R. Daniels’s costumes are suitably eye-popping, although their sets – a striking modular Priscilla aside – lack similar impact.

While the addition of so many songs does make the whole thing desperately episodic, the freedom to use pop and disco numbers from different periods does mean that it is more likely that individual songs will fit the narrative than is sometimes the case.

That said, the moment when someone unaccountably produces a cake and proceeds equally mysteriously to leave it to the mercy of the elements – to justify MacArthur Park – should surely have been the point in history where the jukebox musical died of shame.

nagging doubts

Despite this (and one of those interminable finale-cum-curtain calls that deprive the performers of their proper acclaim) it does hang together fairly well, and the sense of fun involved means that the audience will definitely get their money’s worth.

The Priscilla Queen of the Desert company. Pic: Darren Bell

However, there are nagging doubts. The original film is now 25 years old, and some things have moved on in the interim. It is a shame that a show dealing with acceptance and tolerance has some elements that are less tolerant themselves – the stereotyping of Bob’s ‘mail order bride’ Cynthia was troublesome enough in 1994, and now is just plain unacceptable.

The constant froth and campery does mean that – Bernadette and Bob’s story aside – there is very little real emotion and a lack of real jeopardy. The scene of onstage violence, for example, is here rendered so stylised and balletic that it has very little impact.

The energy of the chorus, however, tends to wash over any such complaints. There is also a live band led by Stephen ‘Spud’ Murphy – which has not always been the case in productions of this musical – and the three Divas, Aiesha Pease, Claudia Kariuki and Rosie Glossop, provide excellent vocal leads.

Like so many films that have become musicals, any of the subtlety in what was a ground-breaking movie in its day has been lost in what is necessarily a more one-dimensional affair. However, the production values on display do make for a satisfying big-budget touring production.

Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 November 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on tour 2019/20:
Tue 5 – Sat 9 November 2019 Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
Mon 11 – Sat 16 November Liverpool
08448 713 017 Book online
Mon 18 – Sat 23 November Inverness
Eden Court
01463 234234 Book online
Mon 25 – Sat 30 November Manchester
Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019 Book online
Tue 17 Dec 2019 – Sat 4 Jan 2020 Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7650 Book online
Mon 13 – Sat 18 Jan 2020 Southampton
The Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811 Book online
Mon 20 – Sat 25 Jan 2020 Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 230440 Book online
Mon 27 Jan – Sat 1 Feb 2020 Nottingham
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
Mon 3 – Sat 8 Feb 2020 Dublin
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
0818 719 377 Book online
Mon 10 – Sat 15 Feb 2020 Cambridge
Corn Exchange
01223 357851 Book online
Mon 17 – Sat 22 Feb 2020 Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online
Mon 24 – Sat 29 Feb 2020 Southend on Sea
Cliffs Pavilion
01702 351135 Book online
Mon 2 – Sat 7 Mar 2020 Sheffield
Lyceum Theatre
0114 249 6000 On Sale Soon
Mon 9 – Sat 14 Mar 2020 Carlisle
Sands Centre
01228 633 766 Book online
Mon 16 – Sat 21 Mar 2020 Woking
New Victoria
0844 871 7645 Book online
Mon 23 – Sat 28 Mar 2020 Ipswich
Regent Theatre
01473 433100 On Sale 23 Jul
Mon 30 Mar – Sat 4 Apr 2020 Hull
New Theatre
01482 300 300 Book online
Mon 6 – Sat 11 Apr 2020 Oxford
New Theatre
0844 871 3020 On Sale 27 Jun
Mon 13 – Sat 18 Apr 2020 Birmingham
0844 338 5000 On Sale 27 Jun
Mon 20 – Sat 25 Apr 2020 Northampton
Royal & Derngate
01604 624 811 Book online
Mon 27 – Sat 2 May 2020 Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
Tue 5 – Sat 9 May 2020 Cardiff
Wales Millennium Centre
029 2063 6464 Book online
Tue 12 – Sat 16 May 2020 Bristol
0844 871 3012 Book online
Mon 18 – Sat 23 May 2020 Cheltenham
Everyman Theatre
01242 572573 Book online

The Priscilla Queen of the Desert company. Pic: Darren Bell


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