Priscilla – Queen of the Desert (Norwich Playhouse, 5th July 2022)
I feel it's only fair to preface the review by saying that it wasn't really my sort of show. As a jukebox musical, the show is reliant on audiences having an affection with the songs, and for the most part in Priscilla, there wasn't any songs in it that I was keen on. That's nothing to do with the show though, that's down to my taste, and if it had been a jukebox musical for 80s synth pop classics or heavy metal, I'd have likely been raving about it. So I'm certainly not going to judge the show based on my taste in music.
Let's start with the performance itself though, and there was loads to enjoy. The three divas, played by Emily Sidnell, Holly Graham, and Tina Dalzell provided some outstanding moments vocally. The three leads portrayed by Matt Squance, Alex Green, and Christopher Nicoll, were also excellent at both lip-synching and singing, and Alex in particular looked in his element with the energetic dance routines. The chemistry between the three of them was joyful, and they particularly excelled in the more comical moments.
Speaking of comical, Samantha Knight put in a hilarious cameo as Shirley. She wasn’t just there for laughs though, and proved her skill as a performer generally alongside the rest of the very talented ensemble, who never put a foot out of place. A particular highlight for me was the ensemble routine during The Communards' Don't Leave Me This Way (probably helped by the fact that it was one of the songs that I liked).
One minor criticism, and whether it was first night jitters I don't know, but there was one particular member of the ensemble who remained rather stony faced throughout pretty much the entire show, which was a bit confusing given the general joyousness and celebratory atmosphere. Perhaps he'll relax as the run goes on.
Beyond the performers, and the Director, Dan Smith, aside from the general praise he's due over the standard of the production, also deserves credit for extracting every ounce of comedy in the show too.
The production team did a fantastic job on what looked quite a complex set-up. The only proper set piece was Priscilla, the bus, but what a set piece it was! It was a heavy truck which clearly took some effort to move, but it appeared to glide effortlessly around the stage when they were showing the inside or the outside of the vehicle, and what really impressed me is that they managed to rotate the bus with actors still on the stage, which took a high degree of accuracy not to knock into anyone in quite a tight space. They also made use of the roof of the bus as a performance space, which worked particularly well when the divas were performing in synchronisation with the artists on the floor. The lighting and various effects were spectacular, and the costumes and wigs were at times an absolute wonder to behold!
As I said, it's unfair of me to judge it because it didn't match my taste in music, but I do feel the show suffers from a lack of substance. While it was very enjoyable, slick and well executed, the plot was just fluffy nonsense that barely skirted around the issue of tolerance and acceptance. I guess not every show has to have a strong message, and the more I think about it, I'm probably just taking it too seriously as a piece of theatre.
What I will add though is that this production deserved to be on a bigger stage. There’s nothing wrong with the Playhouse of course, but they would have benefited from the additional space, as some of the dance routines felt a little restricted.
In summary, if you are a fan of Kylie, Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer or artists of a similar ilk, then this is absolutely the show for you. Even someone with as cold a heart as I have genuinely had to hold myself back from singing along at times, so if you're not a grumpy old man like me, I can guarantee you'll have a hard time not singing and dancing in your seat. And most of all, if you've got yourself a ticket on board, you're in for a hell of a ride.