Theatre review - Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Palace Theatre, Manchester

Priscilla Queen of the Desert 2019
Photo: Darren Bell

Priscilla Queen of the Desert 2019 Photo: Darren Bell - Credit: Archant

Sequins, sparkle and sass aplenty at Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Miles Western (Bernadette), Joe McFadden (Mitzi) and Nick Heyes (Felicia)
Photos: Darren Bell

Miles Western (Bernadette), Joe McFadden (Mitzi) and Nick Heyes (Felicia) Photos: Darren Bell - Credit: Archant

Based on the sassy, clever, funny and heartstring-tugging movie of the same name, Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a riot of glitter, feathers, high heels and the best one-liners ever written, all backed up with a sound track that just begs you to sing along.

We join three drag queens (friends and frenemies) as they travel, by somewhat rickety old school bus, from Sydney to Alice Springs, where they have been booked to perform at the town's casino. The trip has been engineered by 'best in the business' queen, Tick, who has realised that at last it's time he stepped up and visited his son, born of a short-lived but loving marriage. Three drag queens in a bus, travelling through Australia's outback - what could possibly go wrong? Each of our queens has her baggage and so each one brings something different to the party, from the melancholy yet caring Bernadette (played by Miles Western) to the chippy, brittle, bitchy and hilarious Felicia (Nick Hayes) and the sweet, slightly anxious and eager to please Mitzi (Tick, played by Strictly Come Dancing and Holby City star, Joe McFadden.)

The show is carried by its music. The ensemble belts out glorious hit after hit, from It's Raining Men to I Will Survive, throughout the show. Three is a trio of pop divas, Claudia Kariuki, Aiesha Pease and Rosie Glossop, who are worth seeing for themselves, regardless of what's going on around them. In their sequin dresses and with their enormous voices they lift the roof off time after time.

McFadden does a decent turn as Tick/Mitzi, but never truly seems comfortable in the role. Whether he's in drag or not, he doesn't really project ease and is often cast completely into the shadow by the outrageous Felicia. Hayes certainly knows how to get his sass on, from every flick of the hip to curl of the lip, he nails his part. Sadly, his singing seems rather strained on more than one occasion, but there are moments when his true (not pushed too far) voice comes through. McFadden suffers similarly. He can really sing, but it's perhaps a lack of the years (and years) of training that musical theatre specialists go though that don't help him anchor his voice in the most powerful or effective way. No such troubles for Western, who embodies his character Bernadette in every respect brilliantly.

With all the glitter and glitz, the powerful music and the genuinely lovely storytelling, this is a musical that will lift the spirit and give wings to the soul; after all, if it's possible to survive a journey such as this - three drag queens stepping out of the relative safety of the city limits into the outback, where men are 'real' men and not known for their open minds - life for the rest of us is but a stroll in the park. The happy ending makes for smiles all round and before you know it the audience is up on its feet and dancing - and you will be too.