Priscilla: Queen of the Desert
- Anahit Behrooz
- 11 November 2019
This article is from 2019
Celebrating its 25th birthday, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert proves it still has mileage to spare
The UK revival of a successful Australian stage musical, itself an adaptation of the Stephan Elliott-written and directed film, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert has been through as many transformations as its drag queen protagonists, but just like them, it still knows how to put on a show.
Telling the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman who road trip across the Australian desert, this production is as unflinchingly flamboyant as it is touching. The three leads are infinitely likeable: Joe McFadden plays Tick with winning charm, Nick Hayes dazzles as the young, swaggering Felicia, but it is Miles Western – playing the sharp-witted yet tender Bernadette – who steals the show, playing the role with a sincerity that allows Bernadette's experience as a transwoman to shine even amidst the glitter and sequins.
These, incidentally, are aplenty: this is a show that is unabashedly loud in colour, song, and sparkles, embodying pride in every set piece and list. The only false note throughout is the uncomfortably racialised and sexualised character of Cynthia – a townsman's Asian wife – who spends an entire song shooting ping pong balls from unseen places. A product of an earlier time, perhaps, the stereotype nevertheless feel out of place in a show otherwise so insistent on inclusion and understanding. This misstep aside, however, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert is an irresistibly riotous and moving experience. Indeed, as the debate surrounding gender identity rages on in the media and politics, the show's emphasis on fluidity and acceptance is as crucial as ever.
Reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse. Liverpool Empire, Mon 11–Sat 16 Nov, and touring.