Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Bristol Hippodrome

5-stars9 June 2016


In the beautiful Bristol Hippodrome where theatre goers can order snacks via a free app to be delivered to their seats, I looked up at the high ceilings above and marvelled at the cohesive nature of the old and new around me, enjoying the grandeur of it all. How easy it was to feel removed from ordinary life surrounded by such decadence. A night out at the theatre is the height of classy escapism and the shear aesthetics of this 104 year old building provided a perfect backdrop to the garish, flamboyant and all together wacky evening that is Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the musical.

Adapted from the 90s Australian cult classic starring Terence Stamp, the musical tells the story of Bernadette, Tick and Adam who set off on an adventure across the Australian desert each hoping to find love and acceptance of their own. The wild ride the audience is whisked away to features an array of disco-pop anthem favourites, such as Downtown (originally sung by Petula Clark, 1964), I Say A Little Prayer (originally sung by Dionne Warwick, 1967), I Will Survive (originally sung by Gloria Gaynor, 1978), Shake Your Groove Thing (originally sung by Peaches & Herb, 1978), Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (originally sung by Cyndi Lauper, 1983) and Spinning Around (originally sung by Kylie Minogue, 2000), just to name a few. Each and every tune belted out from lungs that rival the great Divas of our time and performed with astounding energy and pizzazz. My favourite performances being those numbers featuring the three amazing Divas played by Lisa-Marie Holmes, Lauren Mansell and Catherine Mort.

Tick (Mitzi), a drag queen played by Duncan James yearns to find acceptance from his young son, while Bernadette, superbly played by Simon Green provides a wealth of comical wisdom from her life as a successful show girl and all her ups and downs along the way, and Adam (Felicia), played by Adam Bailey, is a drag queen after the spotlight and a bit of fun. These three individuals are joined from beginning to end by an incredible cast of performers who successfully created a glittering, magical evening complete with dancing cakes, a dress made of flip-flops and Priscilla, the old bus that breaks down and ultimately provides Bernadette with the possibility of finally finding true love.

The vibrant costumes, many originals from the film, are mind-blowing; never have I seen anyone accomplish so much in a pair of heels. The choreography is fun and sexy, definitely leaving the audience in awe of the actors’ abilities to play these parts so authentically. It was obvious that each performer put everything they had into every performance, leaving us wanting more right up to the very end.

Underpinning the fun and humour of this story, is an important reminder of how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go to reaching equality, respect and acceptance for all – not just for those who live and think just like us. This being highlighted when, after Adam has a run-in with some locals, Bernadette thoughtfully muses that no matter how dangerous the cities may be, they are the safest place “for people like us”. The director, Simon Phillips, did a wonderful job of ensuring the right balance of laughs and poignancy throughout.

Overall, a night out to see Priscilla Queen of the Desert is a night of indulgence, bright lights and rowdy fun provided by a killer cast who leave everything they have on the stage.

Esther Hall

Buy your tickets for the 2016 UK tour of Priscilla Queen of the Desert from ATG.