Liz Coggins reviews Priscilla Queen of the Desert at The Alhambra Bradford


“You won’t get a night like this anywhere else”, says Bernadette the transsexual drag queen and she’s right as Priscilla Queen of the Desert takes to the stage at The Alhambra Theatre in Bradford.

All those years I lived in Australia I often wondered why musicals were set in every country in the world but never one in Australia! Well it took a few years but now I can look my fellow arts and theatre journalists in the eye and say “We had to wait for it but when we did it was worth waiting for wasn’t it?” For there’s no doubt Priscilla is one of the most spectacular and heart warming musicals around.

Starting life as a low budget film, that no one wanted to fund, Priscilla has now achieved the status of being a cult classic as those pink feather scarves and headbands proved in the first night audience.

It’s the ultimate in high energy and demanding musicals for its cast ,who duck and dive between camp and straight, fast paced song and dance routines and navigate themselves gloriously in spectacular over-the-top costumes and unbelievable footwear.

But despite its raucous, crude humour and exuberance Priscilla has an underlying message of tolerance and compassion for those who are different, stretching its actors to the limit as they strive for reality and emotional complexity without shattering their picture-perfect drag queen portrayals.

The story follows three drag queens on a journey from Sydney to a gig in Alice Springs in a bus named Priscilla. Along the way they bond, rehearse dance routines, encounter hostile locals and meet a friendly straight mechanic.

As Tic, the gay man, trying to face up to his responsibilities of a father,Jason Donovan is deeply poignant at times but brash at others but most of all he’s very believable. As an actor Donovan is developing his skills admirably. Could it only be four months ago since I reviewed him in The Kings Speech as an admirable Lionel Logue.

There’s a brilliant performance from Simon Green as the ageing transsexual Bernadette, its brimming with warmth and intersperse with wonderful moments of tenderness and pathos. Yet he’s not sweet and lovely all the time but even his bitchy clichés come out beautifully sophisticated and measured whilst nothing could be more butch than when he puts down the rather portly landlady at the local bar.

Snide put downs and barbed and bitchy words also flow beautifully from Adam Bailey as young thrill seeking queen,Felicia who moves just incredibly in some very sensuous routines. I loved his characterization and his wardrobe!

But the night belongs to the boys, (how do they dance in those heels?) and girls of the ensemble who can only be described as human dynamos with on-tap mind blowing energy and an apparently wicked sense of humour as well.

Priscilla is the kind of musical you want to see over and over again. And audiences, as was obvious on the first night, do return over and over again. But the best thing about Priscilla is it’s enormous feel good factor that leaves you singing and dancing all the way to the car and in a very happy mood.

The show runs until 17th October.

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