31 May to 11 June 2016
Reviewed by Siobhan Bridgwater
To see the wonderful Bristol Hippodrome lit up, at the start of the stage adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Dessert last night was a rare treat. The show, based on the massive hit film of the same name from the 1990s, started with the whirl of glitter balls completely filling the darkened Victorian auditorium with dancing, twinkling lights across its beautiful domed ceiling. The second major treat was quick to follow as Duncan James, most known for his time in the boyband, Blue, appeared on stage as Tick with his fellow performers for the opening number. As he threw off his oversized overcoat to reveal his super toned body, I am sure I was not alone in raising a very appreciative eyebrow. We were in for a good night. All the signs were there: singing divas descending from the rafters, Duncan James in his under crackers and Disco music blasting out from the orchestra pit… Time to sit back and enjoy the show as unbelievably, Tick transformed into Mitzi in front of our eyes, within in a matter of minutes.
The show takes us on a journey, from the relative safe haven of bustling Sydney, for two flamboyant drag queens and a, recently bereaved, transgender woman. They travel out together to a remote Australian desert town in order to perform their drag show and for Tick to meet his young son for the first time. Act One is non-stop, high octane, fun and laughter as Tick/Mitzi, Adam/Felicia (Adam Bailey) and Bernadette (Simon Green)) board the battered old school bus, Priscilla, and take to the open road. Disharmony surges through the group as the threesome struggle to rub along together. They fly through a wonderful array of superb song and dance performances to the iconic hits of the era as their story unfolds and they begin to rehearse for their show. By Act Two we get unexpectedly slapped around the face with the ugly reality of homophobic violence and discrimination as the groups, increasingly outrageous, antics upset the locals. Thankfully mechanic Bob, charmingly played by Philip Childs, is there to help restore order as the group finally starts to bond. With their arrival in Alice Springs, Tick eventually gets to meet his boy, Benji before a hilarious, and wonderfully choreographed floor show medley at Lasseters Casino and the totally over-the-top flamboyant wildlife finale at Ayres Rock.
Priscilla is all about excesses: it is loud, bash and in your face. The cast are pumped and full of boundless energy as the fabulous disco hits from the seventies and eighties come in quick succession. The stage is permanently awash colour with an incredible number of costume changes from long, flowing gowns, split to the crutch to bottom skimping minis and those ridiculous, flared jumpsuits. And you cannot fail to be impressed by those routines performed in an assortment of enormous platform shoes and increasingly gigantic headdresses.
Duncan James shows himself to be quite a remarkable, theatrical performer. He surprised me with a truly outstanding singing voice and a pretty impressive Australian accent to boot. Alongside Adam Bailey, who almost steals the show with his outrageous performance as the bitchy, camp party animal and Simon Green’s graceful and beautifully portrayed Bernadette, they put on quite a show. Supported by a very strong ensemble of singers and dancers, terrific music and lighting, and an award winning costume and make-up history, Bristol can but gaze on in amazement and enjoy the ride.
The show is naughty and crude, incredibly funny, very touching and shocking in parts but overall, totally WONDERFUL.
Tickets cost from £12.50 to £47.50 (plus £4 transaction fee).
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is at the Bristol Hippodrome until 11 June 2016. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0844 871 3012.
Bristol Hippodrome, St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol, BS1 4UZ | 0844 871 3012