Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

playsduncanpriscillaTWO drag queens and a transsexual travel across the desert to perform their unique style of cabaret.

That seems such a mundane description of the 1994 film this show was based on, but that’s all you get on iMDB or on-screen television listings, not even a mention of the fact that the desert is in Australia. Given that in the film, where the drag queens are the scary Agent Smith from The Matrix and that nice young Mike from Neighbours, and the transsexual is none other than Terence Stamp, then you know this is an extremely dispassionate description.

The experience is so much more; it’s about the music, the dance, the feelings and the passion, and even before the curtain rises on the stage version the capacity audience at Bristol are singing and clapping along, as the multiple glitterballs fill the auditorium with rainbows of light.

Unlike some stage adaptations of films, where new, and therefore unfamiliar, songs have to be used, mainly for copyright reasons, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is full of the same disco anthems that kept the film light and popular, and we are all pulled along with classics such as I Will Survive, Go West and Boogie Wonderland.

The three main characters fill their glitter-boots so well, Duncan James, originally from the boy-band Blue, but surely now becoming as well known for such performances as this, plays Tick, who has to travel across country to meet his six year old son. His MacArthur Park, complete with dancing cupcakes, is one of the highlights of the evening. Adam Bailey is Adam, who as Felicia is desperate to climb Ayers rock and be a “cock in a frock on a rock”, which he achieves with a sublime medley of Kylie songs, and Simon Green’s wonderfully poignant performance as Bernadette cements the chemistry between this trio, as well as bringing out the deeper message behind the glitter and glamour of the showbiz world they inhabit, especially in the relationship he has with mechanic Bob, played sensitively by Philip Childs.

As is often the case with major tours of big West End shows, the whole company is at the top of their game – with the main trio hitting every note accurately, moving with absolute precision and taking us with them on the journey, literal and emotional. Yes, of course this is a toe-tapping, sing-a-long, feel good show, guaranteed to leave us all with smiles on faces, yes, there are saucy costumes, killer heels, and risqué jokes, but this is also a deeply moving story, with pathos, depth of feeling, and a message that will always need to be told. In an inspired piece of casting and direction, hovering above the stage, the three “divas”, played by Lisa-Marie Holmes, Laura Mansell and Catherine Mort, give a genuine, soulful voice to many of the numbers, whilst the featured star mimed along.

This is such a good idea, keeping the music live whilst giving the authentic feel of the men singing with women’s voices, and the tight band under Matt Loughran, were efficient and accurate, with some great solo woodwind and guitar.

This Australian road trip, complete with a full-sized Priscilla, fits the large Hippodrome stage extremely well, and continues until Saturday 11th June before moving on around the rest of the UK, as well as touring simultaneously in Spain, Japan, New Zealand, and on a Norwegian cruise ship, so you have plenty of opportunities to buy a ticket and get on board.


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