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Review: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at Cambridge Arts Theatre



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A riotous and colourful new production of the popular musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert, performed by the Cambridge Operatic Society (CaOS), is on now at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. From left, Bernadette (Jeremy Warbrick), Adam/Felicia (Jacob Nightingale) and Tick/Mitzi (Gareth Mullan). Picture: Keith Heppell
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. From left, Bernadette (Jeremy Warbrick), Adam/Felicia (Jacob Nightingale) and Tick/Mitzi (Gareth Mullan). Picture: Keith Heppell

Based on the Australian film from 1994, which was written and directed by Stephan Elliott and which has now become something of a cult classic, the play - a jukebox musical which premiered in Sydney in 2006 - tells the story of Mitzi Mitosis and Felicia, two drag queens who embark on a roadtrip across Australia in a campervan named ‘Priscilla’, to perform in Alice Springs.

Along with their friend, transgender woman Bernadette, they encounter small-town bars, new friends and hostility as they battle against the odds to make it in time for their opening number.

The production got off to a fine start with an explosion of music and colour, with the music coming from a live band below the stage. It did seem at first that some of the cast members were suffering slightly from first-night nerves, but they gradually relaxed and eased into their roles as the show went on.

There were solid renditions of well-known musical numbers - It’s Raining Men, Don’t Leave Me This Way, Venus, Go West, etc - which had the audience enthusiastically clapping along, while some of the eye-popping costumes elicited cheers and even gasps. Indeed, there were a few that were quite outlandish, to say the least!

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. From left, Bernadette (Jeremy Warbrick) and Tick/Mitzi (Gareth Mullan). Picture: Keith Heppell
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. From left, Bernadette (Jeremy Warbrick) and Tick/Mitzi (Gareth Mullan). Picture: Keith Heppell
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Dance Captain Jasmine Whitmore. Picture: Keith Heppell
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Dance Captain Jasmine Whitmore. Picture: Keith Heppell

The sing-along numbers continued in the second half - Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Hot Stuff and Boogie Wonderland all stood out - and Sally Goldsmith deserves a mention for her hilarious portrayal of Cynthia, in general and on Pop Musik.

The three leads - Jacob Nightingale (Adam/Felicia), Gareth Mullan (Tick/Mitzi) and Jeremy Warbrick (Bernadette) - did a rewarding, passionate and very believable job in their respective roles as their own physical and emotional journeys played out.

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Tick/Mitzi (Gareth Mullan) and the Divas. Picture: Keith Heppell
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Tick/Mitzi (Gareth Mullan) and the Divas. Picture: Keith Heppell
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Miss Understanding (Sam Fuller) and the Divas. Picture: Keith Heppell
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Miss Understanding (Sam Fuller) and the Divas. Picture: Keith Heppell

Warbrick did particularly well as Bernadette, creating a funny, tragic, yet ultimately uplifting character who finally seems to find some sort of happiness. Young Harry Clarke as Benji also gave a warm and heartfelt performance, as did Malcolm Crisp as the put-upon Bob.

The cast members all seemed to be having a really great time - and I also enjoyed watching the Divas come on and do their thing throughout - and that in turn was infectious. This exuberant musical runs at the Arts Theatre until Saturday (April 2), with a matinee performance today (Thursday) and Saturday. For more information, visit cambridgeartstheatre.com.

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