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Press reviews: Priscilla Queen of the Desert

The road movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of Desert became a cult hit after its 1994 release.

Cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Go West is one of the big production numbers in the stage version

It followed two drag queens and a transsexual on a bus trip across Australia, the home country of director Stephan Elliott.

Elliott reworked the story as a stage musical which opened to acclaim in Australia in 2006. It now transfers to London with Jason Donovan, who started his West End career sporting the many coloured coat of Joseph, in the lead role.


A full-cast rendition of Go West makes the Village People look restrained, while the disco anthem Don't Leave Me This Way becomes the soundtrack to a high-camp funeral.

Some of the jokes are as corny as Fray Bentos beef and, this being Australian humour, nobody gives a XXXX about polite language. Kanako Nakano's showstopping turn as a Thai bride doing unspeakable things with ping-pong balls is a benchmark for the level of humour - it really isn't Oscar Wilde.

But all wrapped up as a shiny, pinkbowed package, this sumptuously dressed show works gloriously, with its parade of ever more jaw-dropping costumes an utter feast for the eye.

Loud, lewd and lavish, it's about as subtle as a smack in the teeth with a didgeridoo, but who cares when it's this much fun?


Everything in the stage version is underscored and overstated.

Jason Donovan
Jason Donovan dons a head dress of many colours
The gags have got cruder and camper, so that the bus now bears a sign saying "Rear Entry - Upon Request".

What the show is really about is spectacle; which, thanks to Brian Thomson's production design and the costumes of Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, is hurled across in bucketloads.

It's all eye-poppingly extravagant; but, in the last resort, there seems something defiantly tasteless about the fulfilment of a drag queens' dream to do a Kylie medley on top of the sacred Ayers Rock.


It's gaudy and garish with plenty of crude puns. Camp, camp, camp in capital letters.

Jason Donovan has an easy charm, even if he is a bit bland, but Tony Sheldon is the star of the show as Bernadette, the character played by Terence Stamp in the film.

You could pick this show apart if you wanted to - it isn't subtle and the content is a bit thin, but if you want a fun night out with toe-tapping tunes, you'll love it.


London has never played host to a musical pitched on a higher level of gayness and camp comedy, transsexual barrier-breaking and bitchy, witty drag-queenery, than this ingenious adaptation of the sensational film of the same name.

At a time when escapist musicals are all the rage, here's a rare one that takes you happily out of yourself and into daring places your wildest fantasies might never have dreamed of visiting.


There's energy, fun, tunefulness and, above all, the most outrageous swirl of costumes that

Cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert
The stage production weaves in classic 70s pop tunes
I, who have seen La Cage aux Folles and even boggled at Ian McKellen's Widow Twankey, have yet encountered.

Only one thing is missing, and that's the desert of the title.

This is inevitable, given that the Palace stage is the size of a sandpit, but still a pity. The vast stony, scrubby vistas we saw in the film weren't just decorative. The idea was to suggest that here was a pristine wilderness inhabited, if at all, by strange and exotic creatures.


Donovan, it has to be said, seems to have lost what little stage personality he had developed as Joseph in the dreamcoat, and turned, well, rancid - while the long-standing Australian drag queen Tony Sheldon, who starts off promisingly as a dead-ringer for Kim Cattrall and descends into big-mouthed anonymity, and Oliver Thornton as the wicked Felicia - look like Friday night acts at the long-ago Vauxhall Tavern.

Priscilla Queen of the Desert continues at the Palace Theatre, London.

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