REVIEW: Priscilla – Queen of the Desert, Cheltenham Everyman, until Saturday, August 14 

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert

Miles Western, Edwin Ray and Nick Hayes in Priscilla – Queen of the Desert - Credit: Darren Bell

We’re all desperate for the theatre. (Katie Jarvis would even consider a later Alan Ayckbourn.) But the glory, fun, filthy jokes, glamour of Priscilla after a live entertainment famine: the vitamin-prescription we’ve all been waiting for 

Words: Katie Jarvis

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert - Credit: Darren Bell

Oh my heavens! I now know exactly where I’ve gone wrong. 

So, here it is:  

Stuck in a confined space with two other (often irritating, I’ll be honest here) people for a lengthy period of time. 

Tick. 

Danger lurking all around said-confined space. 

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Tick. 

Doing nothing because there IS nothing to do. 

Double-tick with knobs on. 

But did I spend lockdown wearing pink corsets, extravagant wigs and Twiggy lashes? Did I contemplate why the world is so full of prejudice, judgementalism and small-town fear? (Wait! Do anxiety-dreams about running out of toilet rolls qualify?) 

Did I thump! 

And what a rooky, rooky error. 

************** 

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert - Credit: Darren Bell

We’re in Cheltenham Everyman (every time I say that, I want to cheer), and Ian is not in a long and extravagant ginger wig. This is lucky. I nearly made him wear one because I mistakenly believed it was de rigueur for the audience to dress up in drag. (The last time he did, I genuinely mistook him for his sister.) 

The audience is barely able to keep seated for sheer, unadulterated excitement. We’re waiting for the curtains to rise on Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.  

Outside, while we were waiting, people lined up to have their photos taken with two gorgeous drag queens, one as statuesque as an Amazon. I’m amazed they did: Everyone who stood next to them – even the most glam – ended up looking like Hilda Ogden. 

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert - Credit: Darren Bell

Even the weather is playing ball. Suddenly, out of the blue as we milled outside, the heavens open. It wasn’t raining men, but the inference was there. 

And when the curtains do open – it’s onto an alluring, beautiful, attractive, elegant, chic, charismatic, beguiling, flashy, glittering (thesaurus.com: synonyms for ‘glamorous’; honestly, I want to use this word constantly) 

(Or, as my editor, who was also there, put it:  Please write the review, Katie. I'll use the word 'fabulous' far too many times

fabulous, fabulous, fabulous scene. 

Theatre-goers have adored this show since it opened in Australia in 2006. But they hadn’t been in lockdown. 

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert - Credit: Darren Bell

Goodness knows: the costumes; the raucous fun; the belted-out numbers (It’s Raining Men; I Will Survive; I Love the Nightlife – even the songs I don’t like, I loved); the togetherness

So here’s the story. 

Tick, working as a drag queen under the name of Mitzi Mitosis, gets a call from his genial once-wife Marion. She wants two things: firstly, to put on a drag act in Alice Springs (a long ride away across the desert). Would Tick oblige? 

Secondly, their eight-year-old son, Benji, wants to meet him. 

Tick decides he’ll do it – with the help of a couple of friends: transgender Bernadette – whose husband Trumpet (don’t ask; it’s not music-related) has just tragically died of ammonia fumes while bleaching his hair. 

And Adam – drag stage-name Felicia. 

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert

Nick Hayes and company in Priscilla – Queen of the Desert - Credit: Darren Bell

So off they go in a journey across the desert to Alice Springs in their campervan (see above for enclosed space ref) – the eponymous Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

If you’re after filthy jokes (who isn’t?), then you’ve come to the right place (no pun). From the SeaWorld analogy (this is a family magazine so no mention will be made of Free Willy, other than as the charming 1993 family drama directed by Simon Wincer; well done, Simon); to repartee between the three: 

‘Do I look like a bus person?’ 

‘The back of one.’ 

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert - Credit: Darren Bell

Even the vignettes are fabulous, fabulous, fabulous (tremendous, prodigious, stupendous). Gracie Lai as the wannabe Cynthia (loved this), complete with unusual use of ping-pong balls; the funeral scene (Don’t Leave Me This Way); the male dancers in their tight gold shorts; the amazing women – dancers and the three superb, powerful, beautiful singers who provide the voices for many of the drag queen numbers. 

I want to mention everyone in this show; because each and every one of them made it for us. But Miles Western, why would you ever make an appearance in the world – on or off stage – unless as Bernadette? You were classy, funny, elegant, moving, and any other fabulous-word. 

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Also Nick Hayes, Edwin Ray and Daniel Fletcher. Loved you all. (And congratulations to ‘Benji’; clearly a glittering future awaits.) 

Thank you, Mark Goucher (Everyman chief exec) and Jason Donovan for putting this on. Boy/girl, did we need it. 

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert

Nick Hayes and company in Priscilla – Queen of the Desert - Credit: Darren Bell

After all, this is a story of love triumphing. 

But – let’s not forget this – this is also a story of prejudice; of not allowing people to be who they are; of ignorant fear; of stupidity. 

Entertainment – getting people on-side – is always a brilliantly subliminal way of challenging prejudice. As a post-lockdown celebration, maybe the message is even clearer. There are bad things in this world; people’s considerate sexual self-expression is not one of them. 

(I mean, do we really need to keep saying it?) 

I know we’re desperate for theatre. I can’t express that any more clearly than by saying I’d even contemplate going to see a later Alan Ayckbourn. 

Oh. But this was fabulous. 

No wonder each and every one of us was on our feet at the end. 

The Everyman Theatre is at Regent Street, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 1HQ, box office 01242 572573; everymantheatre.org.uk

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert

Priscilla – Queen of the Desert - Credit: Darren Bell

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