Priscilla Queen of the Desert – Sunderland Empire Theatre
Starring Duncan James as disillusioned drag queen Tick (Mitzi), Priscilla (the bus) takes Tick from Sydney to Alice Springs at the request of his estranged wife Marion (Naomi Slights) to meet his 6 year old son Benji (Cameron Lant and Christian Odell-Lowery sharing the role). Tick takes with him recently widowed transexual Bernadette (Simon Green) and fellow drag artist Adam (Felicia) played by Adam Bailey. Picking up mechanic Bob (Philip Childs) along the way.
You know you are in for a fun time when the warning at the beginning of the show tells you take off your wig so the people behind can see. And fun it is, with dancing diva’s descending from the heavens, a myriad of colourful costumes (designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner) and a cheesefest of songs played by the band led by Matthew J Loughran.
Priscilla (the bus) is much more substantial than previous incarnations on the tour but unfortunately for us the motor caused mechanical mayhem and refused to join in during the second half. However, a non working bus didn’t completely spoil the show.
The lack of scenery is a challenge in this show. The vast Australian desert is either a blue background or red curtains and whilst it sets off the array of colourful costumes it doesn’t give any geography to the tale. Equally spoilt in comparison to the film is what should be the awesome Sempre Libera, in the film sung on the back of the bus in a haze of silver, now on a giant sparkly shoe in a piece that no longer makes sense in the tale.
Duncan James is surprisingly good in the role, his Australian accent never wavers and his doubts and worries about the trip make him human beneath the make-up. Another bonus is that he looks good whether in jeans, one piece swimming costume, ball gown or just his tiny y-fronts! Green and Bailey are also a delight to watch, with the former stealing the show and limelight from the other two leads on many an occasion.
Whilst full of glitz and glam, feathers and sequins, at the heart of the show is story of overcoming prejudices whether it be their own or from rednecks and hillbillies they encounter on their travels. And a tale of love; Tick and the love he has for his son, the blossoming romance between Bob and Bernadette and Adam learning to love himself for who and what he is.
Packed with well known numbers like I Will Survive, It’s Raining Men, Don’t Leave Me That Way, Go West and Hot Stuff, you can’t help but tap your feet. But it’s the Pat Benatar classic We Belong that steals the show for me. Showing in one song how to overcome everything life throws at you, it is the rightful final showstopper.
Priscilla is a show to see with your friends on a fun evening out, it doesn’t take itself seriously and neither should you. Its camp and kitsch and feel good from the first spin of the glitterball to the last.
Reviewed by Lindsay Sykes
Photo: Paul Coltas
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is playing in Sunderland until Saturday 5th September and on tour around the UK