Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Theatre Royal Brighton

Graham Weaver as Felicia - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo: Paul Coltas
Graham Weaver as Felicia - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo: Paul Coltas

Christmas came early to Brighton with the opening of the Theatre Royal’s holiday show, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert on Wednesday night (December 18).

The show runs until January 5 but from the look of the packed, jewel-box auditorium on the first night, it would be a good idea to book yourself in early.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Photo by Paul Coltas.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Photo by Paul Coltas.

And go in good voice – you’ll be doing a lot of singing, cheering, clapping along to the music and a bit of dancing.

At first sight, the exuberant and famous tale of how two drag queens and a transsexual travelled across Australia in a bus doesn’t seem the stuff of family entertainment.

But you can take this on whatever level you like.

Wallow in the wondrous sets, 500 costumes, 200 hats, 100 wigs, 150 pairs of shoes and a mountain of mascara – not to mention amazing glitter lipstick, (where do you buy it, someone tell me!)

Or delve deeper into a compassionate and rather moving love story where one character seeks out and finds his young son and another finds true love in the desert.

The laughs come one a second and lots are too explicit to repeat in a family newspaper.

But they are not offensive. Nor is the scene which had the audience in hysterics where a lead character’s ‘mail order bride’ demonstrates her amazing prowess with a fusillade of unusually delivered ping pong balls.

Built into a musical from the hit camp film odyssey starring Terence Stamp in 1995, the stage version relies on over-the-top and pitch perfect performances from, not just its stars, but the whole ensemble.

Sets are imaginatively created too. Priscilla’s progress through the Sydney suburbs into the outback is illustrated with back projections of gum trees and red earth on her windows.

The group’s arrival in the sinister town of Cooper Pedy, (‘miners, opals and gelignite’) is greeted by tough guys dressed head to toe in Drizabone coats and bush hats.

Tick (Mitzi) is played by West End and TV luminary Noel Sullivan who magically combines over-the-top outrageousness with the poignancy of dressing up in girls’ frocks while wanting desperately to impress his young son.

Richard Grieve is a feisty Bernadette – the house cheered as he-she felled an assailant with a single blow.

Musical star Graham Weaver is Adam (Felicia) whose ability to wrap the audience around his little finger is possibly underscored by his mastery of straight, serious drama.

Julie Stark is Tick’s wife, Marion and Giles Watling as Bob brings hope to those of us carrying slightly too much avoirdupois to don a skin-tight jewelled corset ever again.

The ensemble – particularly the divas, Emma Kingston, Ellie Leah and Laura Mansell have wonderful, arena-filling voices which never sacrifice sweetness for volume.

This is a life-enhancing, wish-fulfilling unmissable production and it fits so well into Brighton’s exquisite, decorative auditorium. They are made for each other.