Tuesday, 29 October 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert - The Curve Theatre, Leicester.


It is a quarter of a century since “The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert” was unleashed onto cinema screens; back then bringing drag to a mainstream audience was far more cutting-edge and risky than it is now. The stage musical followed in 2006, the West End production starring Jason Donovan who has returned to the show as Producer for its current run.

Two Sydney drag queens, Tick / Mitzi (Joe McFadden) and Adam / Felicia (Nick Hayes) are joined by transgender woman Bernadette (Miles Western) as they undertake a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs where Tick has agreed to put on a four-week run at the Casino owned by his wife Marion (Miranda Wilford). Tick’s son Benji, aged six or so, doesn’t know his father and Tick worries constantly about what the boy will think of him when they do meet.

Before that can happen though, there is the small matter of crossing thousands of kilometres of Outback in a clapped-out third-hand Hino school bus named Priscilla - credit to set designers Charles Cusick-Smith and Phil R. Daniels here, the “modular” design of this contraption works brilliantly. The long stretches of open road reveal the tensions between them with Adam and Bernadette (whose birth name, we learn, was Ralph) sharing some particularly catty exchanges. Thus, Adam: “Is it true you keep Little Ralph in a jar of formaldehyde and carry him with you in your bag?” Bernadette: “I wish I did, I’d shove him down your throat to shut you up!”.

Following a game of “Truth or Dare” the group end up in a bar in Brokenhill. Whilst they manage to defuse the open hostility towards them, they return to find Priscilla daubed in homophobic graffiti, which they quickly overpaint in glittery pink.

When Priscilla breaks down they are fortunate to meet mechanic Bob (Daniel Fletcher) who joins them for the rest of the trip but not before Bob’s soon-to-be-ex-wife Cynthia (Jacqui Sanchez) has upstaged them with a trick involving ping-pong balls… buy your own ticket if you want to learn more!

After another, more serious, bout of hate crime is directed toward the group in the redneck town of Coober Pedy, they arrive in Alice Springs just in time for their first performance.

In the mind of young Benji (Hayden Polanco), Tick is a showbiz sensation whom he has been longing to meet all his life. When they do meet, he accepts his father, lifestyle, friends and all, completely and without reservation. Even more importantly perhaps, the immensely likeable Tick is finally able to accept himself in all his glorious complexity: a gay man, a drag queen and a father. It’s happy endings all round, in fact, and with over 1,000 people on their feet clapping along to the final number the atmosphere was truly joyful.

Throughout the two hours of fast-paced entertainment the Three Divas (Aiesha Pease, Claudia Kariuki and Rosie Glossop) are belting out '80's favourites such as “I Will Survive” and “It’s Raining Men” whilst the excellent ensemble dance like their lives depend on it. Behind the scenes there must be an operation of military precision underway to ensure that all the myriad costume changes are carried out to split-second timings. The whole thing is a masterpiece, although if I may be permitted one gripe it is that setting the finale atop “Ayers Rock” as Uluru used to be known seems culturally insensitive now the site has been returned to the Anangu who revere it as sacred.

The first working day after the clocks go back is often considered one of the most miserable days of the year. “Priscilla”, with its infectious joie-de-vivre, was the perfect antidote!

Reviewer - Ian Simpson
on - 28/10/19

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