Priscilla Review – East Midlands Theatre

Review: Priscilla Queen of The Desert – the musical. Christchurch Theatre Club. Loughborough Town Hall

Phil Lowe:

Christchurch Theatre Club’s Priscilla Queen Of The Desert – the musical, is a jukebox musical and is smartly directed and choreographed by Michael Gamble. Priscilla is chock-a-block with over twenty pop musical numbers and is certainly a big crowd pleaser. Their live orchestration comes courtesy of musical director Vicki Hing and her accomplished group of musicians.

There are no original show songs but if you enjoy jukebox musicals expect to be carried away by such numbers as ‘Go West’, ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘True Colours’, ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘Boogie Wonderland’, Don’t Leave Me This Way’, ‘Venus’, ‘Macathur Park, etc.

For those of you who have been living all alone in the outback, Priscilla – Queen Of The Desert, started life as an Australian film that, despite original lack of industry interest regarding financial and artistic backing, has gained a cult following. The film and show’s creators Stephen Elliott and Allan Scott must be singing and dancing in their frocks and high heels all the way to the bank of Australia with their great success.

Priscilla isn’t plot heavy. That much is certain. It is big, brash, completely daft and at its core is the idea of acceptance and love. The simple story sees two drag artists and a transsexual woman take off across Australia in a camper bus. The physical journey takes them from Sydney to Alice Springs where they have been promised a gig and gay Tick (Ashley Bright) hopes to meet his young son Benji (Finn Sibson/Oliver Pinchness) – a fact he is keeping a secret from the other two. Tick worries how his young son Benji will react when he discovers his father is gay and works as Mitzi, a drag queen. There are bitchy disputes a-plenty along the route. Raging homophobia and the threat of violence erupt from certain communities and the light of true love for transsexual Bernadette (Nick Sutcliffe)) flickers on the dusty horizon. The show is very funny with a broad sense of humour and some pathos built into the Priscilla book.

As well as the life size touring bus designed by UK Productions, the dazzling amateur show features cross dressing up, fabulous excess, gaudy costumes and ridiculous head-pieces and some crazy outfits and make-up. The costume designs are from Charades Theatrical Costume Hire and CTC and the wigs by RB Wig Creations and CTC. Their extra-ordinary costumes are a major part of the appeal of Priscilla and without them the show concept would fall flat on its heavily made up face and that would be a drag.

The energetic and witty show is sentimental in parts and raucously funny in others. The song and dance ensemble spectaculars are all professionally handled and visually stunning. However, the opening second half number Thank God I’m A Country Boy sounds much more USA than Aussie and seems a little out of place.

This Christchurch Theatre Club production of Priscilla boasts some excellent performances from two of the leads Tick/Mitzi (Ashley Bright) who possesses a fine leading male voice, great stage presence and Adam/Felicia (Craig Butterworth). Butterworth perfectly captures the strutting and annoying camp bitchiness of Adam but brings out many more sympathetic qualities later in the piece. As Adam is the catty catalyst for much of the story Craig Butterworth works the cutting remarks comedy well with super timing and even looks good in a tutu too.

Nick Sutcliffe as transsexual Bernadette puts in possibly the best performance of the show. His Bernadette is old style glamour dressed to impress and not just a ‘cock in a frock’ and Sutcliffe shows off his very moving  singing voice and his character’s tender yet occasionally tough personality. It is important to recognise that Bernadette is a transsexual and not a man in drag and Sutcliffe plays her exceptionally well.

Duncan Gadsby makes a fair dinkum Aussie Bob who kinds true love in the most unexpected place and loses  crazy oriental and temperamental ping pong exhibitionist wife Cynthia (a very funny Hannah Osgood) along the road to happiness.

The full ensemble look and sound like they are having a great time and their energy carries out into the audience who clap along with great abandon and laugh (mostly) in the right places. The four divas, Lucy Banks, Lucy Maden, Anja Palmer and Hannah Parker visually and vocally compliment the main action beautifully and add to the over all OTT showbiz nonsense of Priscilla.

For a sparkling show with more camp than a row of pink camper vans, Priscilla Queen Of The Desert – the musical is currently parked up at Loughborough Town Hall and runs until 27thJanuary 2018. Christchurch Theatre Club are delighted to announce that the whole week is sold out.