Review: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert @ Palace Theatre, Manchester

The country’s already had its fill of red, blue and yellow battle buses driving up and down the UK.

So it was refreshing to see a pink bus arrive in Manchester – courtesy of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The colourful vehicle is a staple of the award-winning production, which is now showing at the Palace Theatre until Saturday, November 30.

The name should rightly ring a few bells. Back in 1994, the story burst onto the big screen with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The Australian movie made such a splash that it was turned into a musical in 2006.

It’s since had a number of runs, finding success on both Broadway and the West End. It last landed in Manchester in 2015, memorably starring Duncan James from Blue.

So, how does this show fare?

Firstly, it’s fair to say that it’s not quite good, clean fun. It’s good and it’s fun, but it’s not particularly clean. In fact, it’s somewhere between a drag act and a musical – a synopsis that won’t shock anyone familiar with the plot.

The story is one about three friends (two drag queens and a trans woman) who set off on a bus-driven adventure from Sydney through to the Australian Outback. It’s all done on the guise that the trio will be performing their act at a casino, but really it’s so that Tick/Mitzi (Joe McFadden) can meet his six-year-old son.

Tick is joined by Bernadette (Miles Western) and Adam/Felicia (Nick Hayes) on a trip that ends up being full of high and lows. There is, however, a splash of humour thrown into every scene, keeping the audience in good spirits even when presented with some of the more testing subject matters.

The jokes largely earn plenty of laughs, with some of the wisecracks being exceptionally vulgar. The audience take these well in their stride, showing that perhaps this production helped pave the way for the likes of The Book of Mormon.

There’s even a rather relevant quip about the Queen’s children, which of course lands well given recent events. This is just one of the many ways that Priscilla continues to be edgy despite the fact that the drag queen plot isn’t as shocking as it was when the film opened 25 years ago.

This is more than just an upgraded remake of the film though. It’s a legitimate musical in its own right, boasting an array of catchy and familiar tunes, such as Boogie Wonderland, It’s Raining Men and I Say A Little Prayer. At times those in attendance seemingly don’t know whether to sing along or just sit back and enjoy the vocals.

In addition, the costume department have clearly enjoyed flexing their creative muscles. The outfits range from eye-catching to downright ludicrous – and you’re only ever one number away from yet another feast for the eyes. There’s certainly no shortage of colour, even before the bus – named Priscilla – is painted pink.

All in all, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert achieves what it sets out to achieve. It’s over-the-top and outrageous, but there’s still a story to sink your teeth into.

This production isn’t flawless. Arguably, it doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t try to tick all of the boxes, but the ones that it does it manages to do so with flair and style.  

*Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is showing at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until Saturday, November 30. You can buy tickets HERE.

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