Priscilla Queen of the Desert: The musical – Review

Mar 4 2014 | By More

★★☆☆☆   What a drag

Edinburgh Playhouse Monday 3 — Saturday 8 March 2014

Priscilla Queen of the Desert – which tells of a trio of drag queens who journey deep into the boiling heart of Australia on a bus called Priscilla – is, of course, fahbulous dahling.

Jason Donovan as Tick - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo credit Paul Coltas

Jason Donovan as Tick. Photo © Paul Coltas

At least the 1994 movie starring Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving was. And so too, by all accounts, was the original 2006 adaptation for the stage.

But the musical production currently on its latest road-trip round the UK leaves you wondering just how much better the original in London’s West End must have been – and wishing you’d seen it there, instead.

It doesn’t start well, with the overture blasting at too high a volume, even for the purposes of settling the audience and grabbing their attention.

Even as the girl singers who are the Three Divas dive into their opener, It’s Raining Men, you realise the costumes and staging aren’t particularly impressive. Not to mention the follow-spotlight operators cutting the top off the trio’s extravagantly high wigs – and it is not the last time they succeed in missing a bit of action over the night.

Of course when costume and staging budgets have been trimmed what is left can be zinged-up with creative lighting design (on this tour, by Michael Odam).

But not here. One scene even features white costumes lit with white. Really? And too many lighting cues arrive with all the nuance of an on-off switch.

The stage truck that represents Priscilla was hailed as one of the stars of the West End production. But this cut-down design by Brian Thomson gives a Priscilla that’s more practical than pizzazz, though it makes nice use of video screens to give the impression of the passing countryside.

And if you are searching for something special in this show, another place you will not find it is in the uninspiring choreography which, despite appearing to be not particularly demanding, still produces sloppy timing from some cast members.

At least they bring a nice energy to the very funny I Love The Nightlife pub scene.

“delightfully charming and gentle characterisation”

For a standout performance Liam Marcellino as Adam/Felicia looks, moves and plays the part with an excellent set of pipes. You’d never guess he was understudy for the role.

Richard Grieve as Bernadette, Jason Donovan as Tick and Graham Weaver as Felicia - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo credit Paul Coltas

Richard Grieve as Bernadette, Jason Donovan as Tick and Graham Weaver as Felicia. Photo © Paul Coltas

Philip Childs gives a delightfully charming and gentle characterisation of good old Bob, the mechanic with a soft spot for Les Girls, but it is difficult to tell whether his rendition of A Fine Romance is ‘in character’ or just not very well sung.

Which, neatly, brings us to Jason Donovan, who appeared in the very first London production of Priscilla in 2009. Five years on, an over-familiarity with his role as Tick/Mitzi seems to have crept in. Or maybe he is just tired of the whole thing – but he is utterly unconvincing as a career drag performer, his overall performance lacks energy and enthusiasm, and his singing voice sounds tired and strained.

Tick’s story, as the man who suffers from his decision to leave behind his wife and young son to be true to the life he feels he needs to live, should provide some of the high emotion in the show. But this potential is never achieved.

It is Richard Grieve as the transsexual Bernadette, who delivers the show’s emotionally charged moments. His unlikely romance with Bob develops with such beautifully understated contrast to the high camp all around, that even the butchest bloke in the audience would want them to get together.

Convincing as a woman – not just a caricatured drag performer but as a rounded character – Grieve is the ‘special’ in this production that is so lacking elsewhere.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert has an extremely witty plot with a script that is peppered with wonderfully naughty lines. And the selection of 1980s hit songs is beautifully integrated into the plot.

Sadly, this is a production that simply does not give the script and music the staging it deserves. Yet despite this, the audience somehow overlooks all the poor points and at the end was roaring its approval.

Running time 2 hr 20 mins
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA
Mon 3 – Sat 8 March 2014.
Mon-Thurs: 7.30pm; Fri: 5pm, 8.15pm; Sat: 2.30pm, 7.30pm.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website:

Priscilla also toured to the Playhouse in March last year. Æ’s review of that production is here:


Priscilla Queen of the Desert on tour:

3 – 8 March Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
11 – 16 March London
New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646 Book online
24 – 29 March Llandudno
Venue Cymru
01492 872000 Book online
1 – 5 April Oxford
New Theatre
0844 871 3020 Book online
7 – 12 April Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 267222 Book online


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