Taking the Australian musical on a nationwide tour, William Breden reviews Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in Leicester.
26 Feb 2014
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a show which promises drag queens, huge songs and entertainment and, mostly, this is what it delivers. Jukebox musicals live and die on audience recognition of, and participation with, the big hits and on this score the De Montfort Hall crowd were clapping along most of the way through.
The show does take a long time to get going; we're into the ninth song, I Love the Nightlife, before it really feels like it's started. The plot is so thin as to be non-existent which is not necessarily a bad thing but it does require the rest of the show to be done at 100% for it to work. The performers were feeling their way in to the performance and the space on this opening night, there was a lot of looking at feet and checking distances going on during the early numbers, and some of the songs were done with little gusto.
There are some great setpieces – Thank God I'm A Country Boy which opens Act Two and involves some audience participation is good fun. The Floor Show Medley and classics like What's Love Got To Do With It? and I Will Survive also go down well.
Richard Grieve as Bernadette is the standout performer in this cast, despite having the least ‘outrageous' performance. Noel Sullivan as Tick is solid if a little dull at times – not really Sullivan's fault, the character isn't the most interesting. The scenes with Tick's son were saccharine rather than sweet. Graham Weaver as the over the top Felicia is given a gift of a role and largely succeeds.
There is some good support from Giles Watling as Bob, who with Bernadette has some of the best scenes in the production. Frances Mayli McCann is very good as Cynthia but it's difficult to ignore the lazy racism and misogny of the part. This attitude permeates the show rather, with unneccessarily unflattering portrayals of country folk as uneducated hicks.
Overall the show is risqué but doesn't take enough risks. Even something as harmless as kissing, which with hetero leads you might expect, is largely absent from the action. Some subplots are lost under the noise, there's a thread about lip-synching versus singing live which is completely buried. The show was fun but flimsy, safe but not shocking. A solid effort and a good night out.