priscilla heads

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

The Musical

Birmingham Hippodrome


A surreal moment to be sitting in the same seats as for The Book of Mormon back in March last year just before the world went dark, and, despite the masks, it felt as if we had never been away with a packed audience, bright lights, classy routines, and laughs, oh yes, lots of laughs.

Priscilla is brash, raunchy, poignant, at times sad and at times great fun, as we follow three drag queens on a journey of discovery through the Australian desert to Alice Springs, riding along in an old bus that only the most foolhardy of owners would take for an MoT.

There is Tick, or Mitzi Mitosis in drag, played by Edwin Ray who is probably no stranger to the Hippodrome after his time with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures – I saw him as King Benedict in Sleeping Beauty.

Ray, is naturally not only a fine dancer but he has a lovely voice and easy acting style making Tick, and his secret, believable. Out of drag Tick is just a bloke, someone you would pass and hardly notice.

Then there is Nick Hayes' Adam, or Felicia when decked out in sequins and a frock, who, even alone on an Antarctic ice shelf in mid-winter, would still scream gay to anyone passing. Not only that he is rude and crude fun with it, turning raunchy into an art form, forget double ententres, even someone with the most sheltered of upbringings couldn’t miss the entendres – not so much innuendo as inyerfaceos. His costumes are all outlandish including a little, and we do mean little, black number that could double as a cheese wire and brings tears to your eyes just looking at it.

Yet behind all the brashness there is a sadness, the real Adam, a nice guy hiding behind Felicia and his vulgar gay standard bearer personas.

divas and buss

The three Divas wave the flag for Priscilla

Then there is Bernadette played by Olivier award winning actor Miles Western (Supporting actor in a musical, Pageant, 2001). Bernadette is a transgender ex-drag queen who is persuaded to join Tick on his trip in a comeback tour when he consoles her at the funeral of her husband Trumpet, so named because . . . don’t ask. He died, apparently, after being overcome by fumes peroxiding his hair.

Bernadette is a pragmatist and has the bearing, looks and style of the woman she has become. Best not to upset her though. When Felicia is in danger of a fate that its best not to think about at the hands of a bunch of Aussie outback, rednecks, it’s a judicious knee from Bernie in their leader’s undercarriage which saves the day – not something taught in ladies' finishing schools, methinks. A knee in the groin often offends.

She has the saddest line of the whole show though as she muses that the city is said to be a dangerous place “yet for people like us it is the safest”.  

The trio find the outback not much different to the Cock a Two Club where they normally perform with its mix of abuse and outright hostility, yet there is also acceptance, notably in the form of Bob, played by Daniel Fletcher, a mechanic in some back of beyond outback outpost who joins the trio, ostensibly to keep Priscilla running but one suspects more for Bernadette, one of Les Girls, who he saw years ago and can’t forget, just before he shipped out to Vietnam.

Once suspects he returned home with his wife Cynthia, played by Grace Lai, who he desperately wants to keep away from the local bar where she is determined to do her act. He fails. Her act involves ejecting ping pong balls which probably should carry a don’t try this at home warning.

It is the beginning of the end for married bliss and, indeed, Bob’s marriage, at least to Cynthia . . . Bernadette? Well that is a new chapter just starting to be written.

In Alice Springs Tick, who Bernie and Adam have already discovered is married, finally has to reveal his even bigger secret – I won’t spoil it for those who have seen neither film nor musical – and we meet wife Marion, played by Rebecca Lisewski, at the resort’s Casino where the trio appear to an adoring audience.

There is good support from Claudia Kariuki, Rosie Glossop, and Aiesha Pease as the Divas who can sure belt out a song, as well as Kevin Yates as drag queen Miss Understanding, while holding it all together are the hard working ensemble who are not only scene shifters but have enough costume changes for backstage to be a constant cacophony of flying zips and ripping Velcro.

There is a clever piece of direction from Ian Talbot with a moving truck of scenery pushed backwards and forwards across the stage like a shutter to reveal a backstage view of the trio performing to an Casino audience upstage with a change of costume and song each time. Simple switching but it worked well.

We get just about every disco hit you could think of and plenty more hits with the likes of It's Raining Men, What's Love Got to Do with It?, Don't Leave Me This Way, Go West, I Say a Little Prayer, True Colors, I Will Survive, A Fine Romance, Pop Muzik, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Hot Stuff, MacArthur Park and a rather moving Always on My Mind.

The last time I saw Priscilla, Tick was played beautifully by Jason Donovan, now he is the producer and Edwin Ray has taken on the role leading the trio of drag artists who put in a stellar performance to carry the show along.

It’s a heart warming story about three very different characters with a common bond who discover things about themselves and each other, and the world around them, and yes it is crude, and certainly not one for maiden aunts, but above all it is fun with some great music to keep things moving at a fair old lick, and bring back memories, with a brilliant seven piece band under Richard Atkinson.

For a couple of hours the world seemed almost back to normal, curtain up, spots on - the Hippodrome was finally back to life.

Priscilla will be rolling across the Hippodrome desert, kept moving by Bob, to 04-09-21. Catch it if you can.

Roger Clarke


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