Review – Priscilla Queen of the Desert the musical

Mar 5 2013 | By More

★★★★☆    Gloriously camp

Edinburgh Playhouse: Mon 4 – Sat 9 March 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

Priscilla first came to Edinburgh in 1994 when the original film premiered at the EIFF, causing all manner of riotous cross-dressing behaviour at that year’s opening party, when the golden invites requested “black-tie or drag”.

Almost 19 years on and the Queen of the Australian Desert is back and she’s a musical. With, it seems, even bigger dresses, louder make-up and yet more pumping music to lip-synch to.

Go West, from the 2013 tour. Photo: Tristram Kenton

It’s also got Jason Donovan as Tick, the Sydney drag queen with a secret wife and child back home in Alice Springs. When the wife calls in a favour he enlists the help of a couple of drag queens and they set off in a big pink bus across the desert to perform in the Alice Springs casino.

It’s all told with the maximum number of garish day-glo and latex outfits, spangles, sparkles and big pink feather boas. There are more Kylie references than you could shake a pair of big sparkly earrings at, and if it’s hunky boys getting their tops off and big heels on that you are after, this is definitely the right place to be.

The hero here is Bernadette, a post-opp transsexual, and old-school drag queen whose lip-synch star has very definitely faded. Memorably played by Terence Stamp in the movie, Richard Grieve now gives her both the wisdom of age and makes the most of her catty comebacks.

The second of Tick’s chosen companions is the outrageous Adam who, as Felicia, is taking drag into areas which Bernadette can’t comprehend. Graham Weaver has the moves and the looks to convince as to Felicia’s success on stage – while his constant bickering and lust for life ring true.

Against these two – not to mention an eight-strong male ensemble who can all more than strut their stuff – Jason Donovan doesn’t come off well. His moves are as if he had never seen Strictly Come Dancing, let alone been on it long enough to come third, and his voice doesn’t enthral when he has a line to hold on his own.

A trio of big-voiced Divas descend from the wings

Nor does he convince as a drag artiste who could hold her own in a Sydney night-spot. If he wasn’t Jason Donovan, there are large swathes of the first half where you would seriously question why he was even in the production.

Donovan’s performance picks up no end in the second half, particularly when it gets down and homely. There’s romance in the air when Bob, the mechanic who saves them in the desert, falls for Bernadette. Tick’s helping to fan the fire of love is nicely done, while the scenes in Alice Springs with Tick’s family bring a really celebratory message about inclusiveness.

As a feel-good musical this is a dead cert. A trio of big-voiced Divas descend from the wings to provide the backing tracks for the lip-synch sequences. They give it large all round, so that whether it’s Raining Men or Girls just Wanting to Have Fun, it’s all Hot Stuff!.

Buy the original movie:

The moments to cherish from the movie, such as Felicia’s riding on top of Priscilla with a huge silver cape trailing behind her in the wind – to the soundtrack of an aria from La Traviata – are faithfully reproduced. Indeed, Priscilla herself is very well  created on stage, with a lush cocktail lounge interior easily seen through the cutaway surround. Video screen windows provide glimpses of the passing bush.

It is feel good, that is, if you aren’t a Taiwanese mail-order bride or a big butch lesbian. In which case, the politics of this remain slightly dubious. The idea that everyone is sisters under the skin obviously doesn’t apply here – although it is not as pronounced as in the film.

But that is to become overly analytical of what is, essentially, a great big pile of plastic, fantastic fluff. With a cherry on top. And a feather. Well, several feathers.

Running time 2 hours 25 mins.
Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place.
Run ends Saturday
Full details on the Playhouse website:

Priscilla Queen of the Desert tour details:

4 – 9 March Edinburgh
Edinburgh Playhouse
0844 871 3014 Book online
11 – 16 March London
New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646 Book online
18 – 30 March Birmingham
New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 Book online
8 – 13 April Sunderland
Sunderland Empire
0844 871 3022 Book online
15 – 27 April Bristol
Bristol Hippodrome
0844 871 3012 Book online
29 April – 4 May Torquay
Princess Theatre
0844 871 3023 Book online

Jason Donovan will leave the tour at Torquay.

6 – 11 May Tunbridge Wells
Assembly Hall Theatre
01892 530613 Book online
13 – 18 May York
Grand Opera House
0844 871 3024 Book online
20 – 25 May Liverpool
Liverpool Empire
0844 871 3017 Book online
27 May – 8 June Southampton
The Mayflower
02380 711811 Book online
10 – 15 June Stoke-on-Trent
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649 Book online
17 – 29 June Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
1 – 13 July Leeds
Leeds Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online
16 – 21 September Woking
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645 Book online
18 – 23 November Aylesbury
Waterside Theatre
0844 871 7607 Book online


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