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Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

★★★★

Aided by an engaging and convincing cast, director Douglas Rintoul finds the perfect mood and oodles of musical vitality to provide a humorous and endearingly entertaining show.

Written and directed by Stephan Elliott, the 1994 film 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' managed to win an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

That's hardly surprising since the film follows two drag queens who certainly have a penchant for lavish, if not decidedly oddball frocks.

And that gives ample permission for this musical stage version to go to town on the costumes - including some natty dresses largely made from what look like kitchen gloves.

Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott adapted the film into a stage musical which first aired in its native Australia back in 2006 and found its way to London's West End in 2009, where it enjoyed a more than 2 year run.

Now it's at the Queen's Theatre in a production directed by its artistic director, Douglas Rintoul, who keeps the energy pulsing from the songs with a talented team of actor-musicians, three fine leading actors, and a community chorus to fill-in the crowd scenes.

Priscilla is the jukebox variety of musical where the songs and music are not custom-written for the show, but are drawn from popular songs that fit the storyline, or fall into a particular genre.

In this case, we find a treasure-trove of hugely well-known numbers, largely from the 60s, 70s and 80s.

There's musical variety aplenty including slow numbers, big buzzy ensemble songs and even a touch of country music if that takes your fancy - if not, there are plenty of other favourites in the song list, including the likes of Diane Warwick's 'I Say a Little Prayer'; Tina Turner's 'What's Love Got to Do with It'; Village People's 'Go West'; and Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive'.

There's good singing right across the company, with some powerful solos to savour as well, and the songs tumble from the production in rapid succession so there's hardly much space for the story, but sufficient to hold the show together successfully.

The basic plot sees Tom Giles' Tick organising a tour through the Australian desert accompanied by his drag queen friend Adam (Daniel Bailey) and the transgender Bernadette (Mark Inscoe) who has a brutally sharp tongue, but a sympathetic streak to match.

Their ultimate destination is Alice Springs where Tick's wife awaits with their small son.

The film was instrumental in bringing LGBT+ issues and lifestyle into the mainstream, and its success in helping to change attitudes throughout society means that the (packed) audience here were all familiar with the culture that the show depicts.

That includes the occasional risqué joke here and there - one of which took a little time to finally dawn on the audience, but found favour when the penny ultimately dropped.

Though Priscilla, Queen of the Desert still embodies an important warning of the continuing threat of ugly homophobia, overall it's a spirited, feelgood kind of show that can't avoid concluding with a near lethal dose of sentimentality.

That doesn't matter a jot, though, because this is not a show that warrants or deserves too much picky, critical scrutiny - the simple truth is that it is an enjoyable romp with a big heart, backed-up with hugely hummable songs to match.

And Douglas Rintoul, aided and abetted by an engaging and convincing cast, certainly finds the perfect mood and oodles of musical vitality to provide a humorous and endearingly entertaining show.

ActDrop

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

A wonderfully warm-hearted production makes the regional premiere of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert</ea show to see at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch

“We dress up in women’s clothes and parade around mouthing the words to other people’s songs”

It’s easy to dismiss the jukebox musical as a lazy iteration of the form. And whilst there are shows that worthy of such a slight, there are others which deserve far better. Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott’s adaptation of Priscilla Queen of the Desert is one of those, a musical which has worked hard to integrate its music into its storytelling in interesting and different ways, allied with a book that is moving and funny and just a little fabulous. Directed by Douglas Rintoul for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, this production marks the show’s regional professional premiere.

One of Rintoul’s innovations is to make this an actor-musician production, a decision that pays off handsomely here. There’s a wonderful sense of democracy about this ensemble, who subsume the singing parts of the Divas here, as everyone gets a moment (or three) to shine under the Australian sun. To name but a few, a burst of stunning vocals from Molly-Grace Cutler aka Keyboard 2/Jules, the raucous slide of Natasha Lewis’ trombone, the sure-fingered delicacy of Josh Tye’s acoustic guitar (at its best as the interval comes to a close).

And they provide an ideal backdrop, along with the use of a community chorus to bolster the various crowd scenes, to this ultimately rather simple and touching road movie of a plot. A gay man preparing to come to terms with being a father, a young performer reaching for the Kylie-soundtracked heavens, a transgender woman daring to dream of love. And respectively, Tom Giles’ Mitzi, Daniel Bailey’s Felicia and Mark Inscoe’s Bernadette (the show’s MVP) balance the emotional heart of their stories with a winning gregariousness.

Visually, there’s a bit of an issue as Joanna Scotcher’s design finds itself caught between trying to capture all the fabulousness of drag and dealing with the fact they don’t have a West End-sized budget. Some innovative solutions work, as in the stripped-back simplicity of the bus; others, as in some of the wigs and costumes, would have RuPaul saying ‘sashay away’ before they’d even opened their mouths. But such is the warmth of the performances, and the strength of the musicality here, that this production can’t help but slowly but surely win you over.

There Ought to be Clowns

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

★★★★

There seem to be as many variations of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert The Musicalas there have been productions over the years. I don’t just mean the decisions that need to be made about blocking, choreography, musical arrangements, and so on and so forth – the order of the musical numbers in this new regional production differs from the West End production that opened at the Palace Theatre in 2009, and therefore the order in which the narrative unfolds is different. As ever, it would be too much of a giveaway to start listing all the differences in terms of plot – and it would be an exercise in superfluity in any event: the end result is the same, a feel-good finish sending the audience out on a positive and uplifting note.

Immediately noticeable is the use of actors as musicians; only the drummer, Greg Pringle, remains off-stage throughout. A catwalk-style extension to the stage juts out several rows into the audience (as it did, for instance, in the West End production of Sunny Afternoon), and like many shows, it took a while to get going but once it hit its stride, there was no stopping the show from incrementally getting more entertaining and absorbing as it went along.

This upward trajectory extends across various aspects of the production, from singing vocals to costumes. By the time Tick (Tom Giles), who also goes by Mitzi (don’t ask), belts out ‘MacArthur Park’, the show had been almost crying out for a big, all-out showstopper, and the audience’s patience is sufficiently rewarded. Tick and his fellow drag queens, Bernadette (Mark Inscoe, the production’s stand-out performer) and Felicia (Daniel Bailey) reserve their most spectacular outfits for their final outing – there’s no anti-climax here. The show builds to a crescendo. Although conventional, the trio’s journey, both physically on a bus bought by Felicia from Sydney to Alice Springs (a journey of over 1,700 miles), and proverbially as they encounter various forms of abuse, is not.

The big ensemble numbers are well supplemented by a ‘community chorus’, comprised of (in the order listed in the programme) Alice Bacon, Annemarie Billings, Colin Daly, Sophie Gilkes-Tarsey, Martin Hart, Ellie Harvey, Ellie Hutley, Vernon Keeble-Watson, Kerry Lawson, Mandy Lyes, Chrissie Mallett, Terence Mustoo, Hayley Sanderson, David Savage, Thomas Stansfield, Harleigh Stenning, Marie Watson, Adam Wheeler, Aiesha Wilson – the supernumeraries make, for instance, a bar look busy and bustling indeed.

Benji (Frankie Day on press night: the role is shared with Alfie Gostling and Joshua Neal) drew audible ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the audience: the prepubescent son of Tick and his wife Marion (Clara Darcy) shows a level-headed temperament beyond his tender years. Peppered throughout the show are some good punchlines, though some are closer to the mark than ever in these days of ever-increasing acceptance and welcome of all people of all orientations, eccentricities and personal tastes. One of the more quotable pithy lines comes from Miss Understanding (Lemuel Knights). After greeting latecomers, the emcee adds, “Can I get you anything? Like, a watch?”.

In places, the sound was not quite balanced, though the production does well to get (spoiler alert) a full-size single-decker bus on stage, with enough space for it to move around. Miracle Chance’s Cynthia comes close to stealing the show – those familiar with the motion picture on which this musical is based may or may not be pleased to learn the ping-pong cabaret routine is toned down just a tad. The storyline may not be much to write home about, but undoubtedly there is much to be enjoyed in the songs sung to a high standard, and the good-natured atmosphere this fun and flirtatious production provides.

London Theatre 1

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

GLAMOROUS, gleeful and glorious! Priscilla Queen of the Desert is simultaneously wildly entertaining, compassionate, and – at times – sobering.

The musical, directed by Queen’s artistic director Douglas Rintoul, is vibrantly colourful and outrageously fun.

However, beneath all the glitz and glam are multiple powerful and poignant moments.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a moving tale about companionship, identity and family.

Written by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, Pricilla tells the tale of three drag queens and their journey across the Australian Outback.

The cast deliver the shows most prominent message – to be who you are and be proud of who you are – with fantastic performances across the board.

Daniel Bailey’s energy as Felicia is contagious, Mark Inscoe is both gracefully poised and cuttingly sharp as Bernadette, and Tom Giles is heart-warming as Mitzi.

The set is wonderfully crafted, the highlight of which is a massive (and mobile) bus, called Priscilla. which quite literally serves as the stories narrative vehicle.

The sound-track is a well-crafted selection of uplifting hits from Tina Turner to Kylie Minogue delivered with verve and gusto.

The show somewhat suffers from a disjointed flow early on but quickly settles into a satisfying rhythm.

Overall Priscilla Queen of the Desert is an absolute bundle of joy empowered by touching human moments and sobering poignancy.

The show is playing until May 26 at Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.

Yellow Advertiser

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

★★★★ '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!

Everything Theatre

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