Priscilla ‘not so much a feel-good but a feel-fabulous night out’
- Credit: MeltingPot Pictures / Simon Wallace
Clive Weatherley, artistic director of the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City, reviews St Albans Musical Theatre Company’s production of musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at The Alban Arena in St Albans.
My one encounter with Priscilla to date was the 1994 film, with the surprising performance by Terence Stamp, a film which simmered before bubbling into cult status and truly putting the camp into camper-van.
When it became a stage musical I somehow missed the London production, apart from getting entangled in a trio of drag queens on a promotional sashay down Charing Cross Road.
So, while a strong hit in the West End and Broadway, I was intrigued to see how this riot of gender fluidity, theatrical drag and near-the-knuckle innuendo would fare in St Albans.
Well, from the riotous reaction of the first-night crowd, provincial or not, they clearly loved every minute.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, or The Ladyboy in the Van as I like to think of it, sparkled, dazzled and did exactly what it said on the can.
The show is predominantly two hours of fun: outrageous costumes (lots of them), hilarious bitchy put-downs, and songs we all want to hear.
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Dig one layer deeper and there’s a touching friendship between our three leads who all take something different from their road-trip to Alice Springs: Mathew Collyer perfect as the sensible but baggage-laden Tick; a slinkily likeable Daniel Quirke as Adam; and wonderfully touching as the totally believable matriarch Bernadette, Freddie Marks.
The show hangs on these three and they all excelled, whether belting out disco classics, tackling emotional drama or coping with yet another fast costume change.
Dig even deeper and there are messages on homophobia and sexuality stereotyping, albeit in brushstrokes as broad as those used to repaint the van in Act I.
With the focus very firmly on fun, if any ‘serious’ message gets through, then it’s the (very green) icing on the cake.
One key scene does stay with us though, between Tick and his estranged son Benji, confidently played by Ben Pulford.
Benji asks his dad if he has a boyfriend. No embarrassment. No difficulty.
Just a simple question from a boy who loves and cares about his dad – and beautifully done.
Another memorable, and clever, scene was the trio’s climactic act at their destination: with the help of a fast-moving shimmering curtain, and lots of actors doubling up, we were treated to a whistle-stop back-view medley of songs and costumes, until the real Collyer, Quirke and Marks reappeared in gold evening dresses for an affecting finale of We Belong.
From an energetic cast of over 30, also outstanding were the three beehived Divas, Charlotte Gregory, Fenella Lee and Julie Lilley, always ready with some Hot Stuff; Mike Smith as the friendly mechanic Bob, who also has a life-changing trip; and Ben Fricke as the jaded, seen-it-all drag queen Miss Understanding.
The rest of the ensemble, under the direction of Martyn Knight, together with Martin Smith’s talented band, all ensured that this was not so much a feel-good but a feel-fabulous night out.
• Priscilla, Queen of the Desert can be seen at The Alban Arena until Saturday, May 5.
For tickets, visit the Arena website at www.alban-arena.co.uk or call the box office on 01727 844488.