Theatre Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Edinburgh Playhouse

Priscilla Queen of the Desert, a jukebox musical of disco hits following the exploits of a trio of drag queens, camp as Christmas? Frankly, Christmas ain’t got nothing on this.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Edinburgh Playhouse * * * *

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With 500 costumes, 200 hats, 100 wigs and 150 pairs of shoes, if anything Priscilla is Christmas come early for drag queens with a taste for Malibu Barbie pink, muscle-bound twinks in hot pants and Scott Robinson from Neighbours.

With two Aussie ex-soap hotties heading the line-up in the form of Jason Donovan and Richard Grieve, there’s an attractive view alongside the authentic accents and optimistic new world energy. Rounding out the trio, Graham Weaver’s frisky, flirty Felicia is more than a match for Donovan’s mincing Tick and Grieve’s accomplished, reserved Bernadette.

Supported by three heavenly “Divas” who preside over the show like stray sirens from a Sheila’s Wheels ad and a slick ensemble, the production has superb momentum and a breezy, carefree attitude that had the audience clapping along from the glitzy It’s Raining Men opening number.

The tempo of the second act was briefly interrupted after the vapour from dry ice triggered the venue’s sensitive alarm system and called a temporary halt to the show. Fire engines were in attendance but the building was not evacuated.

The infamous “ping-pong ball” scene got things back on track, though, and the more thoughtful, nuanced second act took shape comfortably, the upbeat finale garnering a standing ovation in the stalls.

One of the inevitable criticisms levelled at the touring production of Priscilla is that it doesn’t have the same set as the large, long-term stages in London or New York. Ostensibly a road movie, however, Priscilla manages to sidestep many problems by setting scenes in a well designed bus that the crew moves around effortlessly. With curtains the shade of the Australian Outback, it makes for a minimal – in some cases almost austere backdrop – to the fabulous parade of costumes travelling through.

But it’s not like the audience are here for the Outback anyway, there’s an altogether more staggering view on the horizon.