Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert Is A Drag Of A Show

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Queen’s Theatre ★★☆☆☆

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Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert Is A Drag Of A Show Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Queen’s Theatre 2
Photo: Mark Sepple

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the 1994 cult classic about two drag queens and a trans woman travelling across the Australian outback in a decommissioned bus, has been revived at the Queen’s Theatre for a ‘more intimate, stripped-back’ production. The trio’s journey through the desert is an emotional one as their pasts catch up with them and they battle homophobia and transphobia. The original film was critically acclaimed for its positive portrayal of LGBT people, something this production fails to achieve.

The whole point of the plot is to show that behind their larger-than-life personas, the characters are struggling with a vulnerability and pain that their art both causes and relieves. Apart from Mark Inscoe, reprising the role of Bernadette from the West End production, none of the cast appear comfortable handling poignant moments which are brushed away as quickly as their numerous fluffed punch lines. The result leaves the queens as two-dimensional clowns grabbing laughs from endless bawdy innuendo. The on-stage caricature of Cynthia, the mechanic’s Asian wife — complete with Ls substituted for Rs — is akin to Asian blackface and deeply uncomfortable to watch.

Photo: Mark Sepple

One might be forgiven for not realising this is a story about ‘female impersonators’ because there is no attempt at female impersonation at any point. Bizarre, puffy eye masks take the place of make-up. Caps covered in sequins replace wigs. Their drag costumes are a baffling assortment of household items glued onto Lycra onesies. Daniel Bailey, as Felicia, looks more club kid than drag queen while Tom Giles, as Tick, appears constantly stunned to be on stage. Many drag queens doing five shows a week would shave their eyebrows — this lot don’t even shave their armpits.

Despite these issues there are some good points. Creating a bus on stage is a challenge that is deftly met along with some clever, creative set design. The band are placed on stage, moving among the performers in a way that adds novelty and a ‘live’ feeling to the art of lip-sync. Molly-Grace Cutler’s vocal talent elevates the whole production.

Photo: Mark Sepple

Overall, the show has an unpolished, ‘holiday camp’ feel inconsistent with the ticket prices. The emphasis on catty witticisms over difficult emotions means any hope of raising the profile of the LGBT community disappears in a puff of glitter.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, RM11 1QT. Tickets £18.50-£30, until 26 May 2018.

Last Updated 08 May 2018