Theatre

Review: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

This review appeared previously on The Reviews Hub

Priscilla Queen of the Desert arrives at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton with an explosion of glitter balls and feather boas. Billed as the ultimate feel-good musical, the audience climbs aboard the Priscilla bus for an evening of flamboyant fun. And the wheels on the Priscilla bus have been rolling for a long time. The film, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, written and directed by Stephan Elliott, was released in 1994 and quickly became a cult classic. The musical adaptation made its premiere 12 years later in Sydney in 2006, followed by London in 2009, and has since been seen all over the world.

The award-winning musical follows the story of drag queens Tick/’Mitzi’ and Adam/ ‘Felicia’ and their transgender friend Ralph/’Bernadette’. Tick has a six-year-old son he has never met, so when his estranged wife calls and invites him to Alice Springs so the two can finally meet, an apprehensive Tick takes his flamboyant friends along for the ride, under the pretence of a casino gig in Alice Springs.

The trio embarks on a road trip across the Australian outback in a battered tour bus they christen Priscilla. The outfits are bold and brash, and the banter just as much so but their trip is marred by hostility and abuse along the way, as the story touches on themes of prejudice and discrimination. Beneath the outlandish wigs and false eyelashes are three individuals who are challenged on many levels to confront their fears and ultimately, each goes on a personal journey of self-discovery and acceptance.

There is a brilliant dynamic between the three leads. Duncan James, from the boyband Blue really impresses in the role of Tick and not just because he strips down to his underwear in the first five minutes. He’s confident, charismatic and brings a lovely warmth to the role. His performance of Always on my Mind, when Tick finally meets his son (played by Toby Gretton), is particularly touching.

Simon Green is a class act as Bernadette, an endearing soul who just wants to be loved. He has the best one-liners and makes a great sparring partner for the bitchy and hyperactive Felicia, played by Adam Bailey. Bailey often steals the scene, is full of energy and sass, and exceptionally skilled at dancing in skyscraper high heels.

Fast paced and full on, the tone is funny and feisty and there are risqué innuendos and double entendres at every turn. One minute the cast are bounding around dressed as paint brushes and cupcakes, and the next the feathers, leathers and whips are out and everyone is gyrating to Venus by Bananarama– it’s perhaps not one for the faint-hearted.

The show is jam-packed with more than 30 feel-good dancefloor favourites, including I Will Survive, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Go West. The leads are supported by a talented ensemble, which includes The Three Divas, a stunning vocal trio played by Lisa-Marie Holmes, Catherine Mort and Amy Di Bartolomeo.

The costumes are a show all of their own. An elaborate display of colour and sequins, the 600 individual pieces were designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, who worked on costumes for the film version and won an Academy Award and a BAFTA for their efforts.

Priscilla herself, the fourth queen in the story, is an impressive bus construction that lights up and manoeuvres around the stage. Scenery wise, things are kept fairly simple. While it would be difficult to depict the sprawling Australian outback on stage, a lot of the action takes place in front of red velvet curtains, which means the sense of isolation on their physical and personal journey is perhaps a bit lost.

It’s a minor point on what is a fantastic show. Vibrant, entertaining and laugh loud funny, Priscilla is an uplifting treat. Long live the queen.

Clare

Image: Paul Coltas

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