Still Game’s Gavin Mitchell joins Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Gavin Mitchell. Pic: Rob McDougall
Gavin Mitchell. Pic: Rob McDougall
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AWASH with shiny sequins, outrageous wigs and glittering heels, Priscilla Queen of the Desert has sashayed into the Playhouse this week, more camp, crazy and wilder than ever before.

A sparkling mirror ball of a musical, the cast power through a back catalogue of 70s and 80s anthems, led by 80s heart-throb Jason Donovan, Simon Green and Adam Bailey.

Based on the smash-hit movie, Priscilla is the heart-warming adventure of three friends - two drag queens (Mitzi and Felicia) and an aging transsexual (Bernadette) - who hop aboard a battered old bus searching for love and friendship.

Stepping into this glitzy maelstrom of fake boobs and false eyelashes is Gavin Mitchell, best known as Boaby the barman in Still Game.

Just what would his Craiglang regulars think?

Mitchell, along with Chewin’ The Fat’s Karen Dunbar, have been drafted in for Priscilla’s three- week festive season at the Greenside Place venue. It makes a change from panto for the actor who celebrated his 51st birthday on the show’s press night... with just one previous performance and scant rehearsal under his belt.

“It all happened incredibly fast. I met the director on a Friday, was cast the same day and was through in Edinburgh on the Monday doing the press conference with Jason Donovan.

“Then I went down to York where the show was playing for three days. On the first day we ran lines and roughly went over the moves. Then I watched that night’s performance.

“On the second day I went on stage and blocked the moves a bit more. Then the principals came in and we worked through the scenes.

“On the third day we did more of the same in the morning and then ran the scenes in the afternoon. And that was that was it. They said, ‘We’ll see you in Edinburgh...’ So I had a week and a half to forget it all.”

In that week and a half, Mitchell had to keep “hammering in” the lines and more importantly the moves.

He explains, “There was a lot to learn, that’s quite difficult when you’ve only had a couple of cracks at it. A lot depends on how you work because as an actor, so much of what you do is based on the moves. The lines become associated with specific moves and then it becomes muscle memory.”

Consequently, although he had a dress rehearsal before stepping onto the Playhouse stage for the first time on Tuesday, he admits it was a nerve-wracking experience.

“Absolutely, for lots of reasons,” he says. “Knowing the size and the reputation of the show was one. Knowing who you are going on stage with another... the fact that you are playing the Playhouse. There’s a lot at stake and you have undertaken the responsibility to play this part in a big show. No pressure,” he grins.

Thankfully the resident Priscilla cast were more than welcoming.

“They have been fantastic. They are an amazing cast anyway, just stunning, and back stage is a show in itself. I’m running about going ‘What’s my next line?’ and doing my wee bit, and they are changing costumes while still doing three part harmonies.

“Simon, who plays Bernadette, was just wonderful and has been so patient, really generous and giving.

“They’ve all been great actually because they’re up and running and here I come, clodding about. They’re used to doing it their way and then I come in with a different rhythm. I’m a hazard, so they have been very patient.”

Wednesday’s press night, which saw the audience singing along to a hit parade of dance floor classics including I Will Survive, Hot Stuff, Finally, Boogie Wonderland, Go West, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, and I Love The Nightlife, also saw Mitchell celebrating his birthday.

“That was nice of them to organise that,” he laughs.

“It’s a funny one. A December birthday is always a bit nonexistent but the cast were lovely. I don’t know what they’re trying to tell me, maybe they want me to put on more weight as Bob, or maybe everybody just loves cake, but they got me a big birthday cake and God knows how many doughnuts with candles in them. They must be trying to fatten me up, either that or we’re going to be doing The Simpsons Musical, with me playing Homer.”

He may never play Homer, but one role Mitchell hopes to return to is that of The Clansman’s barman in Still Game.

“I’m scared to jinx it, but as far as I know it’s all looking that way, everything points towards Still Game coming back. Reading the press it would appear we are very close.

“Having said that, I was introduced to a guy who works on Marvel comics and was in awe of him, but he said, ‘Never mind talking about Marvel Comics, when is Still Game coming back? Getting you guys back together is more difficult than the Avengers reforming.”

A regular on the panto circuit, you’ll normally find him at the Glasgow King’s, Mitchell is enjoying his year away.

“The great thing about Priscilla is it not that far removed from panto. It’s like panto for adults, there’s cross-dressing, lots of lamé, lots of glitter, and songs that we all know and love.

So he’s not missing the calls of ‘It’s behind you!’ Oh no he’s not. Or is he?

“Yes and no. It’s a double edged sword because I love panto and I miss it, but this is brilliant and a huge honour.

“In many ways, with no disrespect to the show, it seems strangely similar because of the schedule, the time of year, and the fact that I’m with fellow panto pal Karen Dunbar. So it just feels like being in a different city with an even bigger and better show.”

Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Playhouse, Greenside Place, until 2 January 2016, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), £14-£47.50, 0844-871 3014