★★★★ ‘A toe-tapping musical adaptation of the iconic early noughties drag queen movie, with live music impressively integrated into the action.’
So the wife and I are both big fans of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (film and stage), hence this version had some big shoes to fill. We weren’t sure how well such a big over-the-top production was going to transfer onto a smaller stage. However, overall the team at Hornchurch Theatre had done a really good job of adapting the production without losing the glitz, glamour and impact.
The story follows a trio of professional drag queens, unlikely friends thrown together by circumstance, who all want to get out of Sydney for a short while for various reasons. They all jump at the opportunity offered by protagonist Tick/Mitzi to take a month out of the hectic club scene in the city to perform at a casino in Alice Springs, being run by his ex-wife. Flamboyant and spoilt Felicia/Adam tricks her wealthy mother into buying them a broken down old bus they name ‘Priscilla’ and they take off across the outback for an adventure that will test them to their limits.
Whilst it is ostensibly a comedy, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is also a comment on the pervasive macho culture in Australia (particularly outside of the relative safety of large cities like Sydney). Felicia, Mitzi and Bernadette are drawn into perilous situations several times during their journey, and this adaptation doesn’t shy away from the darkness and the danger that people who are ‘other’ often face in society.
I’d anticipated the set design being a real challenge for this smaller production. A lot of the story takes place in a bus, and there are several location changes (seedy bars from Sydney to Woop Woop and beyond). This could have made the action cramped or claustrophobic but designer Joanna Scotcher did a fantastic job with (I’ve no doubt) a fraction of the budget of a West End production. The bus was on coasters and broke into sections enabling the cast to maneuver it, giving the audience different perspectives and allowing the performers to make full use of the space.
Low cost items such as colourful swimming rings with lights were used to great effect as colourful club backdrops. Corrugated metal was artfully used to create landscapes such as Ayres Rock.
The cast were incredibly skillful. Not only acting, dancing and singing but many of them were also playing musical instruments throughout. Some of the Aussie accents were a bit dodgy but other than that the acting was very strong – Mark Inscoe in particular made an excellent Bernadette, very true to Terrence Stamp’s rendition in the film.
One area that felt a little lacking was the drag costumes. They were so gorgeous in the film and on the West End that they felt a little underwhelming here by comparison. There were also a few issues with the sound. The horns section was very loud and this drowned out some of the singing and dialogue, and the second half could have done with a trim (the bedtime scene with Benji wasn’t really necessary), but overall it’s a really polished production and well worth the absolute bargain ticket price (from £18.50 -£27.00).
The theatre itself is a real little gem of mid-century styling too with a very friendly vibe. Well worth the journey to Zone 4!