Wednesday 30 October 2019

Priscilla: Queen of the Desert

Curve, Leicester
28th October, 2019

“That’s just what this country needs:
a cock in a frock on a rock”

My theatre-going so far this year can be aptly described as ‘My Favourite Films: The Musical’. Some of these adaptations/productions have been excellent (Amelie), and others ponderously unnecessary (Little Miss Sunshine). The latest screen-to-stage example, a new touring production of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, falls comfortably in the middle of this spangled spectrum as an enjoyable (if unoriginal) crowd-pleaser.

Ever since the camp-tastic Australian indie movie burst onto screens in the early 1990’s (launching the careers of Hugo Weaving and a young Guy Pearce) Priscilla has been a firm favourite in both the time-trodden ‘road movie’ genre, and LGBT+ cinema. The story follows drag artist, Tick (Joe McFadden), as he travels across the Australian outback in a clapped out bus to visit his young son and revive his flagging stage career. Joined by fellow performers, Adam (Nick Hayes) and Bernadette (Miles Western), the trio encounter a variety of oddballs and bigots, as well as forming some unexpected and personal bonds. A cult classic, writers Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott haven’t strayed far from the source material, simply coupling key scenes from the film with head-bopping disco standards (‘I Will Survive’, ‘Hot Stuff’ eg.) and cheeky dance numbers. While the adaptation doesn’t produce anything new, it’s a proven jukebox formula that works, and judging by the audiences’ reaction, results in a raucous, fun-filled evening of fluff.

Having seen the original West End production of Priscilla several years ago, director Ian Talbot’s downscaled touring version inevitably pales in comparison due to necessary budgetary and logistical constraints. I missed the iconic Stiletto Opera scene; choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves’ tame dream ballet sequence lacks the drama and striking imagery of the original. I also felt the sets and costumes lacked the finesse seen previously. However, if I put my analytical hat on, I could argue that the slightly ill-fitting outfits - comprised of bolts of bargain basement sequins and Styrofoam wigs - is in keeping with the makeshift pluck of the characters and their journey.

Joe McFadden is solid as everyman Tick, getting the balance of earnestness, warmth and flamboyancy just right. Yet, it comes as no surprise that Western and Hayes steal the show. As pithy old-timer, Bernadette, Western gets the best lines (‘now listen here, you mullet. Why don’t you just light your tampon and blow your box up, as that’s the only bang you’re ever gonna get sweetheart!’), while Hayes is in his element when performing the production’s most memorable numbers – his energetic yet sultry entrance to ‘Venus’ is quite something! Daniel Fletcher’s mechanic, Bob, is every bit as cuddly as you’d want, and the blossoming relationship between him and Bernadette is very sweet.

Talbot’s is not an earth-shattering production, but it was never meant to be. LGBT+ representation has progressed since the original film release in the 90’s, so while the stage adaptation can’t bring anything new to the table, Priscilla, in all its glorious manifestations remains a bastion of queer culture that is fabulously unapologetic in its sheer ostentatiousness. Director and co. have created a fun and uplifting evening of kitsch entertainment, catchy tunes and a heart-warming story. It’s just what we need as we enter the drab winter months.

Priscilla: Queen of the Desert plays at Curve, Leicester until 2nd November.
For full tour details please visit:
Miles Western, Joe McFadden and Nick Hayes in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.
Credit: Darren Bell.

No comments:

Post a Comment