Theatre Review | Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

[Press tickets provided in exchange for a review]

It’s time for my first theatre review of 2020, and I’m kicking off the new decade by heading Down Under with the dazzling cult hit Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre.

Twenty-five years after the story exploded onto screens in its low-budget movie form, the story of Tick, Bernadette and Adam, and their rusty-but-trusty bus Priscilla, has not only charmed and cheered audiences around the world, but has celebrated drag, sexuality and self-expression.

Now, thirteen years since it first graced the stage in Australia, drag culture has kicked up a storm, and Priscilla is still well and truly at the eye – and she hasn’t aged a bit.

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Let’s get you up to speed. The story follows the three aforementioned fabulous friends as they embark on a road trip that is destined to change their lives for the better. While travelling across the Australian Outback towards a new exciting opportunity and, for some, the mother of all reunions, they encounter new places, new faces, and new challenges.

The production is crammed full of dazzling sequins, spectacular costumes, iconic hits and fantastic dance routines. This musical is a celebration of performance, excess and larger-than-life personalities, and the whole thing is an explosion of colour and campness.

But while it’s undoubtedly a riotous ride of joy and celebration, time is also taken to confront some difficult issues. Homophobia is openly explored in some scenes which are difficult to watch and incredibly moving, and the concept of gender fluidity and transsexuality is also introduced with wonderful ease; a credit to this tale of acceptance, and an insight into the realities of being a drag queen.

These tender, honest and sometimes shocking moments, combined with glitz and glamour, as well as catty comedy that has audiences crying with laughter, means that this is a musical that really does have it all.

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Strictly star Joe McFadden takes to the stage as Tick flanked by fellow performers Bernadette (Miles Western) and Alex (Nick Haynes), and the three have wonderful chemistry on stage.

While Joe McFadden performs with plenty of enthusiasm and love for the role, his Aussie accent does seem to wobble a little; but thanks to his gusto and enthusiasm, he can easily be forgiven and offers a loveable and relatable protagonist.

Western’s Bernadette is poised and pretty much perfect. There is so much depth to this character and she is performed with both delicacy and strength; Western’s performance is one of the true highlights of this show.

Hayes’s Adam is fantastic too; he is larger-than-life, and the revelation of his vulnerability is done incredibly well. His fiery Felicia performs with gusto and is captivating to watch.

The ensemble and supporting cast are also extraordinary. The three Divas (Aiesha Pease, Claudia Karuki and Rosie Glossop) provide some disco ball-shattering notes to accompany the queens’ performances, and Kevin Yates as the wicked Miss Understanding deserves much more time on stage.

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Priscilla is peppered with moments of drag and performance which will knock your sequinned socks off. It’s a true spectacle; the costumes are elaborate, the set is wonderfully inventive and the music is sure to have you bobbing along in your seat for the entire show. In fact, I found myself sitting open-mouthed for almost the entire performance.

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This is probably the only time a show can be called a drag and it be meant as a compliment.

Priscilla is fun, flirty and full of heart and soul. There is so much more than just fabulousness beneath the feathers and the frills; this is a powerful story about acceptance, identity and self-exploration set to a soundtrack that makes even the most subdued want to choose their biggest, brightest wig, and take to the stage.

Priscilla, you’ve charmed the hearts of Southampton’s theatre-lovers. Shantay, you stay!

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is at the Mayflower Theatre until Saturday 18 January (inclusive).

Tickets gifted by Mayflower Theatre, but as always, my opinions are all completely honest, unbiased and my own.

Images provided by Mayflower Theatre.

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