Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert review: A moving journey to the heart of fabulousness
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Musicals don’t come much more outrageous than Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, so it was a brave move for an amateur drama group to tackle such a complex piece.
But Weston’s WODS Musical Theatre Company decided to fly in the face of controversy when they parked the party bus at The Playhouse and opened its sequinned-festooned doors last night.
The award-winning group is the first amateur company to perform the funny and heart-warming Broadway hit – no mean feat when you have 150 dazzlingly flamboyant costumes including headdresses with a life of their own, plus dozens of infectious disco numbers to cram into a two-hour show!
For those who don’t know it, the musical is based on the 1994 film The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, starring Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp. The story follows three friends, Tick, Bernadette and Adam, who buy a party bus named Priscilla to take their colourful drag show on the road through the Australian Outback. Their epic journey is a heart-warming story of self-discovery, sassiness and acceptance. Searching for love and friendship they end up finding more than they had ever dreamed of, including an eight-year-old son for one of them.
Opening night of any show is often fraught with teething problems and last night was no exception, with sound issues, actors’ first-night nerves and the wrong characters’ names being used a few times. But what struck me about this particular show was how warm and enthusiastic the audience was in getting behind the cast and cheering them on with great gusto. They clapped along to the classic show tunes, laughed loudly at the crude jokes and were extremely quick to their feet at the end to provide a well-earned standing ovation. I believe this was testament to the amazing amount of hard work which clearly went into the preparation for the spectacular show.
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The staging was the undoubted star of the piece – I had wondered how an am dram group would manage to create a full-size bus on The Playhouse stage but manage it they did, and some! The fully-moving vehicle, complete with hydraulics, smoke, lights and boudoir interior was a sight to behold and provided many of the funniest and campest moments of the production. Scenes where it lunges from side to side and swerves to an abrupt halt for amusing road signs were perfectly executed and quite brilliant. One of my favourite bits was when Will Taylor as Adam, aka Felicia Jollygoodfellow, sits on a pink glittery stiletto atop the bus clad top-to-toe in silver-coloured Lycra and ties a long silver scarf around her shoulders and lets it billow behind her in the breeze while miming to the dramatic operatic song Follie. The scene is one of the most iconic in the film, symbolising the complete freedom felt by the character in the middle of the desert which is not often felt by someone more used to homophobic abuse back home. WODS perfectly captured the mood of this and the audience was quite rightly stunned into silence.
Another quiet scene came later in proceedings when Tick meets his son for the first time and they share a tender moment while singing an Elvis number together. Young Weston performer Freddy Jones reprised the role of Benji after appearing in Priscilla alongside Blue singer Duncan James at the Bristol Hippodrome a few years ago and was faultless again. His scene was with fellow Westonian Craig Sillick who played the troubled character Tick very well.
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However everyone’s favourite is the charismatic transgender Bernadette, or Ralph as Adam likes to call her as a nod to her past, with her ascerbic line in put downs learnt over many years of being the victim of derision over her lifestyle. She was brilliantly played by Mike Purnell who has amazing comic timing and was perhaps more convincing as a transgender woman than British acting stalwart Terence Stamp who played her in the film. It was perhaps a nod to this that Mike stuck with his usual West Country accent so was more ‘gert lush’ than ‘g’day cobber’ like the others. But this did nothing to detract from the performance as he was hilarious and easily my favourite character.
The show is filled with infectious songs from the 1970s and 80s from the likes of Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, and The Village People including dance-floor favourites I Will Survive, Hot Stuff, Finally, Boogie Wonderland, Go West, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and I Love The Nightlife. The backing singers and dancers were flawless – all credit to the musicians and choreographers.
The show is a breath of fresh air – an absolute laugh out loud, feel-good romp which is justly billed as ‘a journey to the heart of fabulous’.
WODS has won a number of awards for its shows, including for recent productions Oliver! and Made In Dagenham and I feel there will surely be new ones due now.
Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, will be at The Playhouse, in High Street, until Saturday at 7.30pm, with an added 2.30pm matinee on Saturday.
Tickets, priced £16-17, are available from www.worleoperatic.co.uk/tickets or 01934 645544.