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© Paul Coltas

Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert at New Theatre Oxford

As the curtain opens we are transported to a Sydney, a city alive with camp and colour…Esther Lafferty attends a fun, feel-good show
© Paul Coltas

"500 costumes, 200 hats, 100 wigs and 150 pairs of shoes"

This is an Australian musical, based on a hit film from the early 1990s in which the camper van ‘Priscilla’ is bought by the three key characters of the show, two drag queens and a transsexual, so they can travel across the desert to Alice Springs where they will be performing a show. And the simple frame of this budget Barbie bus is the setting for much of the bold rainbow-coloured action.

This week, Craig Ryder plays Tick/Mitzi, the drag queen instigator of the trip who is going back to Alice Springs to put on a show and see the young son he hasn’t seen for six years, concerned about how the child will react to a drag queen father.

© Paul Coltas


His companions are fellow drag queen Adam/Felicia played splendidly by Adam Bailey, a good time ‘girl’ and the star of the show for me; and Bernadette (Simon Green) whose transgender character is portrayed with old-school class and glamour despite the difficulties of life and love in this world of cross-gender showbiz. There’s friction between Adam and Bernadette, a source of amusement for the audience, and there are laughs and comedy throughout from their departure from Sydney to the ridiculous antics of a mail-order wife in the outback and a few audience members pulled up on stage. The show however show isn’t without pathos, and amidst the glitz and cheer, we do spare a thought for the difficulties faced by people whose inner make-up and lifestyle choices make them stand out from the crowd where they face bigotry and hatred.

Unusually the cast is mostly men, but the voices of the three divas, often hanging overhead in magnificent red-headed costumes like airborne mermaids, rang out and from the opening bar the audience was clapping and swaying to the music. And every song’s a cracker with classics such as ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, ‘I Will Survive’, ‘Hot Stuff’ and ‘It’s Raining Men’ as well as a Kylie Medley.

With more than 500 costumes, 200 hats, 100 wigs and 150 pairs of shoes making an appearance on stage, there’s an extraordinary funeral, silver cowboys and Indians with a difference, neon lycra and magnificent platforms, feathers to make a bird-of-paradise green with envy, and ever-taller headpieces, all colourful confections like an extraordinary pick n mix. It’s a visual feast from start to finish with over-the-top outfits that become ever more gratuitously incredible – like a far-advanced version of panto without the fairy-tale characters – until the costume extravaganza of the finale, during which the entire audience were on their feet.

A bright, breezy and brilliant show, just perfect to add some sunshine to a wet and cloudy week in Oxfordshire.

Presented by David Ian Productions and the Ambassador Theatre Group in association with Nullarbor Productions and MGM on stage | Directed by Simon Phillips |At New Theatre Oxford until Saturday 18th June 2016


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