• Sara Lamerton

Going Out With A Bang: Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Backstage and Review

The New Year was ushered in what seems like forever ago. January has lingered, standing as the gatekeeper of the potentially brighter horizon of 2020. It’s no wonder people dislike January when reality hits, the days are dreary and dark, the festivities have come to an abrupt end and we’re left waiting for the often intangible and indescribable. Panto season, having gone back into hibernation for another year, had brought some much needed sparkle to people’s ordinary lives. But now that’s over, what is there to look forward to?

For us on the Theatre Royal’s Bloggers & Critics Scheme, this new year is extra bittersweet as it marks the end of our time here. The seven months of unexpected experiences, remarkably creative performances, new friendships and cheeky free tickets is wrapping up and, despite not ever wanting to change the fact that we began the programme way back in June, endings and letting go can be challenging, especially in the dark depths of January.

Upon arriving Backstage midweek after work we all knew that it would be the end. This particular humpday seemed like it just got a little bit worse. But we were wrong. What lay ahead was a treat like nothing before it: glittering outfits, famous buses, well kept secrets and an appreciation for just how hard the theatrical life can be on those who have been called to it.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert landed in Plymouth and demanded we embarked on one very lastminute and final ride before she packs up her gladrags and hauls herself halfway across the country for the coming stretch of her long, toned, athletic leg of a 20 week journey on Sunday.

She is most certainly a musical with a reputation. Everyone has heard of her. Even people you’d never have expected to love her, do. With a lot to live up to since her West End debut over the pond in 2011, the cast and crew dedicate themselves to making each tour a success with long and tiring schedules that can’t possibly be appreciated until you’re smack bang in the middle of them, far away from friends and family whilst still having to look, sound and act badass night after night.

Having never seen the show before, I was surprised by the tame and precise organisation backstage. I expected massive bits of gaudy set and giant headdresses to confront us the minute we walked through the door. Even though these certainly existed, they looked rather subdued against the stark and contrasting minimalism of the backstage world compared to how they did later on upfront under the lights. But of course we sat in the ‘battered old bus’ like excitable school children and felt no shame as we not so subtly ogled the cast whilst performing their adult version of Wake-Up Shake-Up ahead of that night’s performance. Hoping for a sneaky glimpse of Joe McFadden who headlines the tour, playing lead character Tick/Mitzi, our dream didn’t come true as we were ushered off to leave the cast in peace to do their thing - which involves a lot of butts in the air, apparently. Sadly, I’ve no idea why we couldn’t stay for that….

It wasn’t long though until we were greeted with all the butts we could wish for. Priscilla doesn’t hold any punches. From start to finish she whips up an outrageous, glittering and often hilariously brutal tornado flinging you across the outback and leaving you feeling disheveled, but oddly satisfied by the whole experience.

It can certainly be said that Priscilla is a feel good production. It might not have all the bells and whistles that other famous and long running musical sets have, but what it lacks in size and complexity it makes up for in heart and the sheer talent of its cast. Nick Hayes who plays Adam/Felicia is perfection from start to finish. Owning the role and the stage, the portrayal of his character grows and grows as the show progresses, as does his often spikey and scathing relationship with Bernadette, played by Miles Weston, whose realistic and sensitive performance creates the most likeable person in this perfectly mismatched threesome as they make their way across the outback to a happier and more contented place than where they embarked from.

Priscilla is what she is, there’s no doubt about that. She is loud and proud, outrageous and camp as hell. She won’t leave you with any doubt about her identity or her agenda. She won’t promise something she isn’t and then not deliver leaving you disappointed. She certainly won’t hold back on the ‘Tits and Teeth’ and will most definitely have you envious of how supple and flexible she is. She displays some outstanding talent, some well known and loveable faces, some highs and lows, and will spirit you into a totally different world that leaves you a little sad when it ends. But hey, who’s really complaining. It’s January after all and escapism is exactly what we need.

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