Having premiered in Australia way back in 2006, the musical adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert has been going from strength to strength. This is a show with huge global appeal. Since 2006, there has been a production of this show being performed somewhere in the world, from Stockholm to Singapore, from Toronto to Tokyo, and now it’s back in the UK on a massive national tour.
Based on the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, this show tells the story of Tick, a drag queen who goes by the name of Mitzi and his journey across Australia to perform at a casino in Alice Springs. He is joined on his adventure by fellow drag performer Adam AKA Felicia and the ex-drag queen now transgender Bernadette. Whilst Tick tries to maintain the idea that the trip is for nothing more than a job, his friends are quick to discover that he is actually travelling to the remote town to meet his secret wife and young son. Along the way, the trio learn that they have left behind the safety of the city and ventured into the outback, into small towns that struggle to accept their way of life.
Across the years, the role of Tick/Mitzi has been played by a number of big stars including Jason Donovan and Duncan James, and for this tour its Holby City star and Strictly Come Dancing winner Joe McFadden that steps into those famous shoes. And he does with style. Full of charm and cheekiness, he makes the character instantly lovable whilst showing off those winning moves and touching hearts with the more emotional moments. Tick, much like Felicia and Bernadette, experiences a whirlwind of feelings throughout the story. He is coming to a point in his life where he has to face up to the past and make a decision about where he wants and needs to be, and McFadden conveys those emotions brilliantly.
Miles Western and Nick Hayes play Bernadette and Adam/Felicia respectively and both impress immensely. Western is able to illustrate both the comedy and the serious moments with an apparent ease, playing a character who drips in sarcasm and witty comments whilst injecting pearls of wisdom when it is most needed. Bernadette knows her place in the world and is 100 percent confident in that, she knows that not everyone is going to accept that but she accepts that and in a way uses it to boost her own confidence. Nick Hayes plays the fabulously over the top and somewhat hyperactive Adam/Felicia. Bursting with energy and sass, you can’t help but love this character and feel for him when he faces hostility and violence who just being himself. He wants to be loud and proud and does everything that he can to make Bernadette and Tick feel the same way.
Daniel Fletcher is charming as Bob, adding further emotional depth to the piece and he talented ensemble make performing high energy numbers and going through multiple quick changes look effortless. It was a pleasure to see Emma Crossley on stage again after seeing her in Kinky Boots and Mamma Mia! and Jordan Cunningham after seeing him in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, his take on the rather over excited stage hand during the casino performance was very much a scene stealer. Rosie Glossop, Claudia Kariuki and Aiesha Pease show off some incredible vocals as the three divas. The entire ensemble are slick, moving set in and out and piecing the show together with big dance numbers.
The vast majority of the sparkle and glamour come in the form of the costumes, standing out like sore thumbs against the rather plain backdrops. The costumes are larger than life, glitter covered and colourful, adding to the overall energy of the show.
With a soundtrack of disco and dance floor classics such as ‘I Will Survive’, ‘I Love The Nightlife’ and ‘It’s Raining Men’, Priscilla Queen of the Desert paints itself as a crowd pleaser, putting out a bubbly and lighthearted image but under the sparkle, under the glitter, are darker hard hitting topics that this show expertly shines a light on. There are scenes in this show that are designed to make you think, scenes that are designed to make you feel uncomfortable. Tick, Felicia and Bernadette face homophobia, trans-phobia, anger and violence from the residents of the small towns they pass through on the way to their destination. They fight back, but not with further violence, but with bravery and pride. They don’t hide away, they celebrate. Despite this being a story set in the nineties, these are topics that are still of importance today. Whilst we can hope that we know live in a much more open and accepting world, members of the LQBTQ community still face these troubles. Priscilla is not only a story that celebrates what it is to be yourself and have confidence in it, this story also highlights the difficulties of doing so.
To conclude, whilst the set may be lacking in sparkle, both the costumes and the energetic performances from the talented cast more than make up for it. The music will get you dancing, the witty and funny book will make you laugh, and the emotions will pull at the heart strings. It will pick you up whilst throwing some very hard hitting subjects at you. You will leave the theatre with a spring in your step, a song stuck in your head and perhaps feeling a little bit more accepting.