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Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Susan Elkin reviews)

This glitzy jukebox musical works only if there’s a huge costume budget and WWOS have certainly bitten the bullet and provided a whole evening of shimmering, witty, outrageous visual spectacle. We ricochet, as we must, from frocks made of cupcakes, a silly scene with paint brushes, bikinis, thongs, huge shiny hats and much more. What courage it must take for these men, most of whom are probably office workers, accountants, taxi drivers and so on by day, to wear such extravagances. Bravo.

You have to run with the music and let the audience feel as if it’s at a huge noisy party too because nearly everyone present knows numbers such as I Will Survive so well that singing along comes naturally. The night I saw it the house was full and there was palpable, whooping excitement from every corner, especially from women ogling men in scanty drag. It felt rather like being at a Chippendales evening spliced with Kinky Boots and seasoned with pantomime.

The thin plot (always the case in shows which work only by hooking songs into a narrative) gives us three drag queens crossing the desert from Sydney to Alice Springs in an unreliable camper bus so that one of them can meet and build a relationship with his young son. There’s a fine, charismatic performance from Adrian Smith as the lanky, classy rather moving (and funny) Bernadette. Adrian Morrissey adeptly catches Tick’s nervous ambivalence about what awaits him in Alice and Thomas Fitzgerald’s camper-than-camp Adam is nicely nuanced and often hilarious. As the three divas, Amanda Farrant, Tracy Prizeman and Larrissa Webb, who hover over the action (yes, real flying) are suitably over the top in every sense.

The large, intelligently directed (by Kevin Gauntlett) and imaginatively choreographed (Jacqui Morris) cast does sound work in the ensemble scenes. The Churchill playing space is large and this show makes confident use of it.

It’s a pity then, that given a show which is inherently very funny, that so many of the jokes and witty lines were thrown away or mistimed – almost as if director and cast felt apologetic about some of it and wanted to rush on to the next bit. Moreover there’s a lovely sound coming from Colin Warnock’s nine-piece band in the pit but some of the tempi are pedestrian (I suspect the drummer was dragging) especially in the first half. Some of the singing was strained in the first half too but the show really finds its feet in the gloriously excessive set pieces after the interval.

First published by Sardines


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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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