A freezing cold Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre was hot like an Aussie BBQ on opening night for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, as the audience was flung like a boomerang from Sydney to the Aussie outback for one of the most glamorous shows there is.
The musical, adapted from the 1994 cult classic film, follows drag queens Tick and Adam and Berndatte, a transgender woman, as they pile into a tour bus, the eponymous Priscilla, and travel across Australia to perform their cabaret act in a hotel ran by Tick’s estranged wife, Marion. There’s a method in Tick’s madness though – he’s really on the way to meeting his young son for the first time.
The production is visually stunning. Produced by Liam Glendenning and Astravaganza Entertainment and directed by Dan Cunningham, the man responsible for bringing Boulevard’s Miss Rory to life, it is an accomplished stab at what could be considered the musical equivalent of climbing Ayre’s rock in “full tits and feathers”, an ambition Adam proudly boasts of in the show. It’s no mean feat to stage something of this calibre and to call it an amateur production would feel like a disservice. Glittering grand sets provide the backdrop and of course the “budget Barbie campervan” itself is the focal point. Rotating on stage as to show off her interiors – the bus almost steals the show and is the centrepiece of one of the most fun numbers, Colour My World.
Keith Wigham is simply superb as Bernadette. He inhabits the character and displays the right amount of fragility as a woman who just wants to find love, mixed with a fearsome protectiveness of her two companions. The latter is shown when Adam is attacked by a group of men and she comes to his rescue like a knight in a chiffon pant suit. Another stunning moment comes courtesy of Bernadette and Bob, the man who she falls for. Wigham’s rendition of True Colours, one of many LGBT anthems included in the show, is beautifully done; not outlandish or played for laughs, but touching and heart wrenching.
A few technical hiccups (frustratingly near the end of the show) hampered some of the final songs but Jason Jones, as Tick, soldiered on. Jones leads the trio, and the show, with tremendous valour so it was no surprise that the mic problems didn’t faze him. The scenes between him and his son are emotionally done; the newly-united pair are great together and give the show a real heart. James Forster as Adam completes the main line-up and is like a Tasmanian devil from the minute he steps on stage. The part requires not only a cracking set of pipes but tonnes of energy and enthusiasm and Forster’s turn is overwhelming in the best way possible.
Other standout performances come from Jack Wonnacott and Josephine Hatfield. Wonnacott’s comic timing is en pointe as Miss Understanding, a hostess of sorts for the evening, and is a rousing introduction to the show (which sets the tone perfectly with a hilarious take on Tina Turner) Hatfield also impresses as one of the three Divas. Her larger-than-life voice, showcased on songs like It’s Raining Men, is incredible.
Disclaimer: this show isn’t going to be everyone’s glass of champagne. The songs aren’t your usual musical theatre fodder and at times, don’t lend themselves that well to telling a story. But, this is a story full of heart and more relevant than ever in these times where, still, not everyone is accepting of one another. And, if you’re here to sing your heart out and dance in the aisles, don’t be a drag and look no further than Priscilla, queen of camp.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House until Sunday February 12, 16.30 and 20.00. Tickets are priced £16.50 – £22, Concessions £2 off full price tickets Thurs & Sun only. Groups buy 10 get 1 free. (Plus booking fees when booking online or over the phone) Click here for tickets.
Photos: Stagedoor Photography (visit their website here)