Back in the mid 1990s, I first saw the original film of Priscilla and thorougly enjoyed the quirky and engaging story of three drag queens and their journey across Australia in their bus - Priscilla. Sadly bad weather made it impossible to get to London on the day I had tickets and so I was delighted when it was announced that the touring version would be making a stop in Oxford.
Maybe it was this heightened expectation that meant that the end result was somewhat disappointing.
Make no mistake, there are many good things about this version. The costumes are spectacular, the company work is full of energy, enthusiasm and great skill. The music (a mixture of live and pre-recorded) is pitch-perfect and gets the party going with a real bang. The show is stolen by the brilliant performances of Richard Grieve (Bernadette) and Graham Weaver (Adam/Felicia) - both of whom honour the original creators of the roles whilst never resorting to copying them.
It is just a shame that the production as a whole does not quite hit the same heights. Priscilla the bus should be at the heart of the show - and whilst I can understand that the tour does place some restrictions on what can be achieved, the decision to redesign the bus just to use a tubular frame work supporting some LCD displays was an error. It strips away the personality necessary for this key element and leaves a hole in the show. Similarly fans of the film will remember the iconic shoe moment (to an aria from La Traviata) but replacing the shoe with a step ladder was just not the right choice. Yes redesigns are inevitable but not enough was done to ensure that the heart of the show remained intact.
Many in the near capacity audience were there to see Jason Donovan as Tick. He has been associated with the production since it opened in the West End and he still has the ability to draw the crowds. However he was decidedly underpowered and seemed to be going through the motions for the majority of the numbers. The audience did not seem to mind - they were still on their feet at the end!
For me, this is still an enjoyable night out with some good performances. It is not, however, the celebration of life and camp that is should have been.