Review: Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Edinburgh Playhouse

Priscilla Queen of the Desert is more than just flamboyancy, energy, belting songs and a colourful set, writes Catherine Salmond.

I expected this show to be good. It was just a hunch really.

Flamboyancy, energy, belting songs and more colour thrown at you than from a children's paint palette.

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And I got that, all of it, buckets full of the stuff from the moment the curtain came up at the Playhouse and Priscilla Queen of the Desert opened with a top-tapping immediacy.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Edinburgh Playhouse

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    But did I expect to be moved by the show? To be thinking far beyond the wonder of the set, the costumes and the music long after home time? To still be reflecting on the issues the musical addresses at bed time and again over breakfast?

    No, I did not.

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    I was a Priscilla virgin, never having seen the musical or the film it is based on.

    I knew it was about drag queens and I knew it had been a box-office success when it hit our screens 25 years ago. I knew it was bright, packed with well-known numbers and would likely make for a great night out.

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    Miles Western, Joe McFaden and Nick Hayes star in the show.

    But I was ignorant of its bravery, of the power it has to make people think about the struggles between individuality and self-expression, versus society's expectations and limitations.

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    The show follows two drag queens (Mitzi and Felicia) and a transsexual (Bernadette) as they make their way through Australia on an epic journey in an old coach called Priscilla.

    Mitzi is secretly going to meet his six-year-old son for the first time, a lonely Bernadette is grieving for her deceased husband and Felicia dreams of standing on Ayres Rock in the Northern Territory, in full costume, blasting out Kylie Minogue hits ('a cock in a frock on a rock'). Together they plan to put on a drag show - and to be themselves.

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    The journey has its hiccups, its arguments and its soul-searching. There are laughs and many witty one-liners (from Miles Western as Bernadette in particular) and there is power in the physicality of the show (Nick Hayes as Felicia is a stand-out performance).

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    And there is prejudice; Felicia is beaten up by some locals and Priscilla is the target for 'faggots' grafitti.

    I overheard two women in the Playhouse toilets saying they had been close to tears during the latter scene.

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    The show (co-produced by Jason Donovan) stars Joe McFadden of Strictly Come Dancing fame as Mitzi, bringing with him a believable vulnerability of character as he struggles with what it means to be a father and also a drag queen.

    The closing song says it all. We Belong.

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    Priscilla Queen of the Desert

    Edinburgh Playhouse

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    5/5 stars