The programme states that the stage musical is ‘even better than the film’. That’s a bold claim, and not precisely accurate: the film and the musical are entirely different entities, the latter jettisoning most of the emotional arc in favour of a medley of pop favourites. In fact, the musical works most effectively when it is cheerfully attempting to replicate something that is most effective on screen: one actor playing three characters, a montage of quick costume changes, and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert herself.
With most ‘juke-box musicals’, the framework tends to be the back catalogue of an artist, or a certain decade. With Priscilla, the only link holding everything together appears to be the Spotify playlist of a gang of girlfriends getting ready for a night out. This isn’t actually a bad thing, and gets the audience up and dancing in the aisles on more than one occasion. At times, you can hear Priscilla’s gears squeaking in protest as certain songs are shoe-horned in to serve the plot, but mostly they are effective, particularly in songs like ‘A Fine Romance’ and Tick’s rendition of ‘Always On My Mind’.
As Tick / Mitzi, Hearsay’s Noel Sullivan perhaps has the least to do and the longest time to do it in: we know what he wants from the first moment we see him, and it’s reasonable to assume that no-one would want to deliberately stop him. There’s more for Graham Weaver to play with as Adam / Felicia, a fizzing, petulant piston of energy that makes mostly wrong choices (and will likely do so again after the story ends). He is exasperating, bitchy and annoying, and Weaver gives him enough charisma and sweetness to ensure we understand why everyone puts up with, and indeed loves him.
Home & Away and Neighbours star Richard Grieve delights as Bernadette in a performance that manages to hit as much camp and glitter as anyone else on stage while also being nuanced and subtle. Even small things such as hand gestures or stepping off the bus are so believably female (in a way that the drag acts are understandably not) that non-fans are likely to be checking their programmes to confirm the actor’s gender. Sexy, cool and blessed with a collection of pithy putdowns and smart trouser suits both in the tradition of Bea Arthur at her best, Bernadette is, if not the Queen, then certainly the Grand Dame of the Desert.
Sparkling and fun as a bottle of Lambrusco (and just as likely to give you a headache if you over indulge), this is friendly, life-affirming and joyous entertainment.
Performed on Wednesday 18 December 2013 at Theatre Royal Brighton.