Priscilla Queen of the Desert - National Tour review

Everyone’s favourite big, gay bus is hitting the road again, as Felicia, Tick and Bernadette unplug their curling tongs and go bush, travelling across the Australian outback and making their way to perform a show in Alice Springs.  Between the breaking down, bickering and bigotry, the trio learns about life, love and friendship whilst strutting their stuff in their high heels.

As Felicia says at one point in the film that the show is based on, “there’s nothing like new frock to brighten your day, girls.” The show has been re-imagined and like the bus itself, it is given a fresh coat of paint.  But not every frock is made of satin and this production, unbelievably, manages to suck most of the fun out of what is, in reality, a superb show.

Joe McFadden is woefully miscast as Tick, hardly making any eye contact with the audience and flipping between being virtually inanimate to over-exaggerating every gesture, whilst Miles Western portrays transsexual Bernadette more as a gay man than a trans woman; with only Jordan Cunningham bringing much to the main trio as Adam and his drag alter ego Felicia. 

The corrugated iron-based background set is bland, gone are the recreations of the Oscar-winning costumes (to remove the flip-flop dress is a crime) and the titular bus doesn’t fare too well either. There is an abundance of unnecessary creative decisions – the “comedic” shooting of a kangaroo, a flashing nun and the addition of a set of dancing hicks whilst Adam belts out La Traviata from the top of the bus – which simply don’t sit well within the show. The delivery of the script fell flat. There is an increase in the sexualisation in the show, containing more groin thrusting that is really needed and seemingly replacing the camp with a vague sleaziness.

The choreography was safe rather than outrageous, and the staging made the performance space seem almost empty when the ensemble cast were performing. Those who are seeing the show for the first time may well find much to enjoy, but disappointingly, this is an incredibly uninspiring production.

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On the plus side, the Divas’ were able to belt out the tunes, the soundtrack comprising of a selection of disco classics is stomping and the musical numbers are undertaken with energy and enthusiasm by the ensemble. But sadly, the re-imagined show looked cheap, the costumes were disappointing and tacky, the performances from the main cast were broadly poor and the over the top camp felt sadly lacking.

It must be difficult to drain the life out of such a buoyant and uplifting show, but somehow, this production manages to do just that.

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Priscilla Queen of the Desert is at Sheffield Theatres before continuing on its national tour

About the author: Paul Szabo
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.