REVIEW: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert brings sensitivity behind the flamboyance

A theatrical trip through the Australian outback in a sparkly pink campervan was exactly what was needed on a rainy night in Northampton.

By Anna Brosnan
Monday, 9th August 2021, 4:55 pm
Updated Monday, 9th August 2021, 4:56 pm
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a voyage of discovery
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a voyage of discovery

Learning that the celebrated musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was strutting its way into Royal & Derngate, I took the opportunity to see the show so many rave about.

And, as a massive Jason Donovan fan (of the vintage late 80s Neighbours era…yes, I’m talking about Scott and Charlene, not to mention Mike and Jane), I’m amazed it took me so long.

The all-talented Mr Donovan is just one of the Neighbours stars who has formerly appeared in Priscilla, and he co-produces this current tour.

And what an homage to Australia this is, complete with dedicated musical segments devoted to pop queen Kylie, the setting of the great outback itself – and even a kangaroo (which, spoiler alert, meets an untimely end).

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    Based on the Oscar-winning film, Priscilla is the story of three friends who leave the bright lights of Sydney behind to hit the road in an old campervan bound for Alice Springs.

    The show has more sparkles, feathers, hot pants and glitter than I think I’ve ever seen on one stage, but as the performance moves on and the three central characters unfold, masks start to be lifted and stereotypes are removed.

    In the first few minutes of the performance, I have to admit I wasn’t as enthralled as I expected to be. While the musical numbers were full of energy, the jokes and dialogue, mainly based around sexual innuendo, seemed tired and sometimes too abrasive to be funny.

    But, as the scenes moved on, the three central characters: Adam/Felicia (played by Nick Hayes), drag queen Tick/Mitzy (Edwin Ray) and Bernadette (Miles Western) were shown to be larger than life on stage, but, in their personal lives, full of uncertainty and vulnerability.

    All three actors demonstrated great talent in their roles. Nick Hayes is a dazzling performer and Edwin Ray shows great flair in switching from comic to tender in a few scenes (my favourite number had to be Edwin’s performance of ‘I left the cake out in the rain’, complete with dancers dressed as cakes!).

    Perhaps the most poignant characterisation came from Miles Western as Bernadette, the ageing star still hopeful of a fine romance.

    It’s this depth, together with some great performances of disco hits, such as 'I Will Survive' and 'Finally', not to mention fantastic dance routines, that really make this show memorable.

    The journey to Alice Springs ends up being a journey of discovery for its central characters and they are more endearing as a consequence.

    *Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, ended its run on the Derngate stage on August 7.