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Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Nicola Klein reviews)


No wonder there are so many productions about just now. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a heart-warming, important story which cheerfully celebrates sexual diversity without ignoring the prejudice and challenges which being “different” brings. It also has a large number of meaty roles and cameos as well as being musically powerful (all those hits) so it scores all round. And providing you’re prepared to run with a massive costume budget as Louis Ling’s Cambridge Theatre Company has clearly done then it’s a case of hop on the bus for an evening of mildly outrageous high-quality, camp, glitzy fun. Sequins are de rigeur. People dressed and dancing as cupcakes or paintbrushes are as surreally silly as they are entertaining.

Three drag queens, each with his/her (one of them is transsexual) own problems travel across the desert from Sydney to Alice Springs in a large (unreliable) camper bus to appear in a club. It is a journey in every sense because all three are searching for a personal change of direction.

Gareth Mullan finds troubled warmth and plenty of depth in Tick who has an amicably estranged wife and a child he’s never met in Alice Springs. His lyrical tenor voice is a great asset too. Max Digby Carpenter is strong as the petulant and bitchy but vulnerable (the beating up scene is very disturbing) Adam. Jeff Hammond is convincing as the older, wiser, sadder bereaved Bernadette, a transgender woman who needs a man in her life. The central essence of this show is the dynamic tension between the three of them and it’s nicely managed in this production – every line skilfully timed with precision and every possible innuendo (no shortage here) expertly and thoroughly milked.

There are also plenty of pretty fabulous dance routines. Director, Emily Starr, and choreographer/assistant director David Mallabone give us masses of imaginative vibrance so that the stage pounds with theatrical energy, especially – for example – in the finale to Act 1. Kenneith Yong (ensemble) is an outstandingly talented dancer: twitching, tumbling, gyrating and he’s great as the aboriginal who dresses in role only for the tourists. His is such a glitteringly good performance that I assumed (wrongly, I learned afterwards) that he is a fully trained and accomplished pro.

Other fine actors in minor roles include Richard Dodd as the ever-decent Bob, Andrew Ruddick as the flamboyant Miss Understanding and Kattreya Scheurer-Smith as the hilariously naughty nightclub dancer, Cynthia. Sophie Benefor, Maria Buda and Heather Panton give us a competent busy Diva trio.

Meanwhile – the school theatre at the Leys school is modern and very well equipped – the nine piece band is tucked overhead on side balcony making a grand sound under the baton of musical director, Lucas Elkin who has also made sure that the harmony singing comes through clearly from the stage.

Someone pointed out to me after the show that amateur theatre comes at different levels. “This show,” she observed, “is high-end amateur”. Too right it is. Cambridge Theatre Company has come a long way in a very short time.

First published by Sardines,%20Queen%20of%20the%20Desert%20&reviewsID=2899

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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