3 August 2021

Priscilla: Queen of the Desert - Royal and Derngate Review

The party bus Priscilla rolls into Northampton for a week and it well and truly blows off any cobwebs that could be left after the theatre's 16 month closure.


The jukebox musical features some of the biggest disco hits, songs like 'It's Raining Men' get the crowd going right from the beginning. There's a sense of the atmosphere before the show but once the lights went down that got ramped up further. 

'Colour My World'. Photo by Darren Bell.

The show is based on the 1994 cult classic film of the same title and sees us follow three drag queens as the unite for a performance in the Australian outback travelling all the way an old battered bus they've christened Priscilla.


Tick (drag alter ego Mitzi) is the reason for the trip to Alice Springs as he is due to be re-united with his 6 year old son whom he's never met. Tick brings the trio together with old Les Girls star and recently widowed Bernadette and the young energetic Adam (alter ego Felicia).


The road across the outback has more than a few bumps along the way but ultimately the show is about family. The family the trio make - albeit a fairly dysfunctional one, and the family Tick gets re-united with. 


The music is the thumping heart of the show with brilliant numbers filling the auditoria with light and joy. Numbers like 'Colour My World' which comes after Priscilla has been painted with homophobic slurs and bursts the place and the bus back into life with a rainbow of colour. Musical director Richard Atkinson and the Priscilla band create a wonderful sound from the orchestra pit. The music delights the full capacity crowd in the Derngate.


'Go West'. Photo by Darren Bell.

That colour is also created by dazzling lighting designed by Ben Cracknell and the stunning costumes by Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith. The costumes are so well thought out and designed that it creates this whole world of drag on the stage. The design could easily topple over the top into being gaudy but it never feels that way. It's bright, colourful and a delight to the senses. 


Tom Jackson Greaves exuberant choreography is performed with real skill by the company, the movement is fluid and fits in to each style of the characters on the stage - whether that be in the Outback drinking establishments in 'Thank God I'm A Country Boy' or to the more extravagant company numbers like 'Go West' which features great flagography.


Edwin Ray is superb as Tick/Mitzi. He makes the character believable and with real heart, especially when the character is re-united with his son. Ray does a fantastic job as the one of the trio who holds everything together as the other two constantly bicker and bitch about each other. Nick Hayes has boundless energy and charm as Adam/Felicia. He is endlessly confident and fits the role tremendously and he sings up a storm too with a powerful vocal range which soars in 'Hot Stuff'.


Miles Western (Bernadette), Edwin Ray (Mitzi) and Nick Hayes (Felicia). Photo by Darren Bell

The show hasn't been without backlash with the character of Bernadette being trans. Back in March the show put out a casting call looking for trans actors and in the end only one has been cast in and ensemble role and to understudy the trans part in the show (see here for further reading). I have nothing against Miles Western who does do a fabulous job in characterising the role, he sings with real confidence and captures the slightly washed up diva really well but it does feel a shame that a cis male is still playing the role.


There's star turns from the three divas played by Claudia Kariuki, Rosie Glossop and Aiesha Pease - they enhance the musical numbers with soaring vocals. Daniel Fletcher does a lovely job of fleshing out mechanic Bob. Gracie Lai gives a memorable turn as Cynthia - it'll certainly make you look at table tennis balls differently! Kevin Yates begins the show with real warmth and humour as Miss Understanding, they do a fine job of delivering some early comedy to the performance.


The show completely dazzles from the beginning through till it's crowd pleasing curtain call reprise of 'I Will Survive'. The show is an explosion of glitter, rainbows and the purest of joys. It is a perfect show for people to return to a theatre with. You will leave with a song in your heart and sequins in your soul. Delightful


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ one bus ride you won't want to miss. Upbeat, joyous and celebratory theatre.


Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert continues at Royal and Derngate in Northampton until Saturday 7th August 2021 and tours the UK and Ireland. Visit https://priscillauktour.com/ for full tour dates.


The full Priscilla company. Photo by Darren Bell.

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