Edinburgh Playhouse: Tue 15 Dec 2015-Sat 2 Jan 2016
It’s a boogie wonderland at the Playhouse as Priscilla Queen of the Desert returns for a three week run – and proves to be in better shape than ever, with a few judicious tweaks and a brace of top guest performers for Edinburgh.
The story is all the same – Jason Donovan once again plays jaded Sidney drag queen Tick, who is asked by his ex wife to take his act out to the casino she runs in Alice Springs.
There are just as many costumes and costume changes – and they are as utterly outrageous as ever. Indeed, there must be more transformations in one performance of Priscilla than there are in a complete Christmas season of Cinderella.
The differences are small but each carries its own weight. And added together, they make for a show which is a lot more human than it has been sometimes, and which also has a lot more pizzazz.
The key structural change – for those who haven’t seen the show for a while – is in the three Divas who provide the big, powerful backing vocals for the drag queen’s to lip-sync to.
In the show’s early incarnations the three were flown in from on high, hanging above the stage like a glittering angelic Wall of Sound. Now Lisa-Marie Holmes, Laura Mansell and Catherine Mort are grounded, although still as glittering and poured into their curvaceous outfits.
Sometimes they hang back, as the drag acts take centre stage; at other times they stand side-by side with the drag act or come bustling right out to the apron to deliver it big and large. Which makes for an altogether more vibrant and in-your-face show, one which gives the music much more clarity and power.
Indeed, the most fastidious fan of the music itself should be more than happy with the general standards of the ensemble, with practically every single word delivered with attention to its clarity.
Elsewhere, Jason Donovan seems to be much more comfortable in his role. He still hasn’t quite made it fit him like the glove it might, but he gets the humanity of a man who is caught between the guilt-free hedonism of the big gay Sidney lifestyle he has been living for the last six years and his guilt at not having seen his son for that time.
The two drag queens who Tick recruits to join him on his trip to Alice Springs aboard the big silver bus they christen as Priscilla are both given strong, appropriate and heartfelt performances from this cast.
Simon Green gets the subtleties of elderly, fading transsexual Bernadette, whose young lover has just died in an unfortunate domestic hairdressing incident. Green has every angle covered: caustic and cutting in his ripostes, but clinging to a lost element of the past, like a character in a Tennessee Williams play.
If Tick’s feelings for his estranged son provide the major plot arc, setting the trio off into the outback in the first act, Bernadette’s own feelings and love affair provide all the energy and drive to get that old bus home in the second act.
The third drag queen Adam, who goes by the name of Felicia, is given a big, boisterous and utterly believable performance by Adam Bailey. He has a big, self-destructive streak that is rather more complex than it seems at first sight. Bailey also delivers the triple threat, as the role demands, on the singing dancing and acting fronts.
Edinburgh gets not one but two guest performers. Both of whom put in excellent turns. Karen Dunbar has the most outrageous of these and, as might be expected, turns in a hilarious performance as Shirley the bar keep at the Broken Hill bar where the trio end up.
Complete with a preposterously dangling pair of falsies, Dunbar makes the most of the admittedly slender opportunities afforded by the role.
Gavin Mitchell, however, has a much more important undertaking as Bob, the mechanic who turns up to help save the trio when Priscilla breaks down in the middle of the outback. Mitchell might be best known for his comedy – mostly Boaby the Barman in Still Game – but he has strong acting credentials which he brings to bear here.
It’s his character who provides the love interest for Bernadette. It would be all too easy to play the comedy up. Mitchell makes no attempt to do so, and is all the better – and occasionally very funny – for it.
Gavin Mitchell. Photo: Rob McDougall
In many ways, his performance is the making of the production. The relationship between Bob and Bernadette is what gives it its depth. While his performance as a regular Ozzie bloke really seals the deal when Felicia goes in a wildly inappropriate solo adventure into an outback boozer. It’s an utterly honest performance which makes the dangerous edge of the show all the more real.
It is in that one particular scene, where the violence turns nasty, that the show gains its age guidance rating. Officially it’s over 15 year-olds, no doubt because of the sexuality of the main protagonists. Which, if the case, is beyond silly.
To be honest, there is nothing in all the camp and innuendo of the drag acts that would I would feel any need to protect my seven year-old daughter from. Like all great blue comedy, the more understanding you have, the more filthy it is. Although I would maybe expect to field a few “interesting” questions afterwards.
However, the violence in the outback bar scene is quite disturbing and I would think that anyone who hasn’t got into double figures will probably find it a bit too much.
Which is sad for the younger generation, because in many ways this is a perfect Christmas show. Big and vibrant, with superb production values, plenty of great tunes and glitz and some solid underlying storytelling. Well worth a second look.
Running time 2 hours 35 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA
Tuesday 15 December 2015 – Saturday 2 January 2016
Mon-Sat (Not 25, 31/1): 7.30pm; Matinees Weds/Thurs, Sat & Tue 29: 2.30pm.
Jason Donovan will not be appearing on 24 and 26 December.
Full details and tickets on the Playhouse website: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/priscilla-queen-of-the-desert-tour-2/edinburgh-playhouse/
Priscilla Queen of the Desert on tour:
15 Dec 2015 – 2 Jan 2016
0844 871 3014
12 – 16 Jan 2016
Wales Millennium Centre
029 2063 6464
18 – 23 Jan 2016
Royal Concert Hall
0115 989 5555
25 – 30 Jan 2016
0844 871 3017
1 – 6 Feb 2016
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652
8 – 13 Feb 2016
01603 63 00 00
15 – 27 Feb 2016
New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645
29 Feb – 5 Mar 2016
His Majesty’s Theatre
14 – 19 Mar 2016
21 – 26 Mar 20166
29 Mar – 02 Apr 2016
0844 871 7648
4 – 9 Apr 2016
11 – 16 Apr 2016
0844 871 3023
18 – 23 Apr 2016
The Hawth Theatre
25 – 30 Apr 2016
2 – 7 May 2016
01902 429 212
9 – 14 May 2016
16 – 21 May 2016
24 – 28 May 2016
0114 249 6000
30 May – 11 Jun 2016
0844 871 3012
13 – 18 Jun 2016
New Theatre Oxford
0844 871 3020