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Priscilla Queen of the Desert (Susan Elkin reviews)

There’s a lot of Priscilla about. This is the third one I’ve seen in less than a year. And no wonder – it’s a glitteringly life-affirming show underpinned by a very strong book (Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott) and lots of powerful music. If you then hand it over to ArtsEd’s talented, well-trained students it fizzes with energy and you’re in for a jolly, enjoyable two and a half hours of theatre.

Ben Tyler finds real depth in the troubled Tick, whose past life in Alice Springs is what triggers this unlikely quest story of three drag queens crossing the Australian desert in a camper-bus in search of his (her) personal form of happiness. Tyler is wistful, practical, reasonable, anxious kind and a sweet voiced singer among other things. The scenes at the end when he finally meets and makes friends with his son Jamie (nice role/performance alternated by James Rich and Declan Miele Howell from ArtsEd Day School) are tearfully moving. It’s fine work.

Toby Miles’s take on the histrionic, brittly unhappy Adam – spitefully camp and childish but in desperate need of real love and care – is nicely judged especially after the homophobic beating. He too sings with clarity and verve.

I was less comfortable with Adam George-Smith’s Bernadette. It’s arguably the most interesting role of all – the ageing transsexual seeking a man to love and frightened that her career is all behind her. George-Smith is elegant and appropriately cutting when Bernadette needs to put down Miles’s character but the aching and anguish aren’t developed enough. In her everyday clothes she looks strangely frumpy too which is probably an attempt to make George-Smith look older but it doesn’t quite come off. And although he does well in the drag scenes George-Smith’s singing when he’s simply being Bernadette is a bit dull.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is an excellent show for students because it’s full of cameos for individuals to excel in. Jessica Lee, for example, is a fabulous Cynthia with a deliciously rude Asian ping pong ball dance in the night club. Charlotte Jaconelli gives us an excellent opera diva turn and what fun to see Matt Bartlett singing his cheerful hoe down sing and playing the fiddle himself.

The whole show features exceptionally fine choreography (Anthony Whiteman) slickly danced by an accomplished cast. And it’s good to see actors who aren’t yet professionals really making every line and every joke count. I admired the imaginative use of projected images too. Congratulations ArtsEd, director Shaun Kerrison and everyone involved in this production.

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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