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Review of Priscilla - Queen Of The Desert at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

You watch Hairspray. You watch Last Night A DJ Saved Your Life. You watch Xanadu. You think that campometer has absolutely no other levels. Then you sit down and watch Priscilla - Queen Of The Desert and realise that you have only been watching the pretenders to the crown. Emblazoned with fifty shades of pink, the loud and proud Priscilla is like nothing else ever witnessed and to be absolutely frank, it really is quite brilliant.

Following the removal of the giant lipstick prop and the rousing overture, complete with a bedazzling light display courtesy of the strategically placed glitter balls. We head straight into the buzzing musical numbers with the full company performance of Downtown. It also gives lead Duncan James (Tick/Mitzi) his first chance to get down to his pants, much to the delight of a great many of the crowd. It was clear he had been working out, quite offensively so to be honest. Getting changed on stage into one of the many and frankly ridiculous, but always entertaining costumes, the theme for the night is truly set.

Downtown is also our first chance to witness the dangling diva's (not a euphemism) played by Lisa-Marie Holmes, Laura Mansell and Catherine Mort. These throughout the evening provide the audio for the occasional and so-called traditional miming drag performances, while also sporting a great deal of the more frilly costumes. Next Miss Understanding (Callum MacDonald) is giving us a hugely entertaining performance of What's Love Got To Do With It before with no further ado we head into the meat of the story.

For those not aware (and pretty much all I knew myself about the show coming to it), Priscilla is the name of a bus. This our three main players eventually climb onto for a journey of both work and family reasons. Tick is heading to see his (secret) wife and (even more secret) son in a casino in Alice Springs (where else would you want one?) and in tow with him are Adam/Felicia (Adam Bailey) and Bernadette (Simon Green).

Bailey is an infectiously entertaining Adam, by far and the loudest and proudest of the three and in one scene perhaps the most naive and foolish as things look like spiralling out of control in a devastating way. During this scene, totally deadly serious, Bailey is at his best and within all the fun of the show, it exudes tremendous power.

Simon Green's performance as Bernadette is very possibly the best of the show, so close to portraying the female in every respect, that you so frequently have a double take. It really is a stunningly brilliant performance and one which gets infinitely better in his scenes with Bob (an also quite brilliant Philip Childs). Bob is the every man character, the person that if we all were like, would instantly make the world a better place. Green and Childs scenes together are without doubt some of the best and most heartwarming of the show.

Duncan James is also brilliant as Tick, sporting a pretty much perfect Aussie accent. It has to be said though he does ironically have a relatively plain character, in this play of tremendous broad colours. A quite calm, diluted character in fact. However it is perhaps for the better against the exuberance of everything else and allows those more powerful later family scenes to work more effectively.

The book by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott is almost constantly funny and often tremendously rude, although somehow if you have a totally open mind, never offensive. There are some quite brilliant lines in this magical script, particularly the brilliant origin of the dearly departed Trumpet's name.

The music is a wonderful collection of classics through the years performed magnificently by the hidden band under the directorship of Matthew J. Loughran. The songs are generally well selected to fit into their places perfectly. The best of them include the most wonderful use of Don't Leave Me This Way. While the brilliant Go West fits the story to a tee as well, as does the tremendously poignantly used True Colours. There is also a gorgeous little performance of Always On My Mind from James and a wonderful little turn from Christopher Dixon as his son Benji.

The ensemble are of an exceptional standard throughout, performing magnificently entertaining routines that are so busy you will easily go home having missed something wonderful. Of the other performers, individual mentions must go to a couple. Julie Yammanee's ping pong popping routine to Pop Muzik is huge fun and gives those in the front rows something to grab hold of as well. While scene stealer extraordinaire Catherine Mort's turn as Shirley is really quite brilliant and handles those extra large womanly asserts for brilliant comic effect. Oh and that tea towel, well quite.

Perhaps the only slight disappointment with the exception of the extraordinary Priscilla, is the set. Stark and purely curtain themed most of the time, it would be a bit barren if it wasn't for those stunning and varied costumes. That bus though perhaps in reality provides all the set that we may ever need, so this is a minor quibble in a brilliant show.

So without doubt a quite endlessly entertaining musical, full of warmth, joy and fun while handling some very sensitive moments in a mature way. I am not sure if I will ever be able to out camp Priscilla (Rocky Horror maybe?), however if this is ever to be beaten in those stakes, it will have to be a brilliantly pink show. Grab your boa and flounce your way to the theatre to see Priscilla right now darling.

««««½

Performance reviewed: Monday 4th April, 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.

Priscilla is on at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 9th April, 2016 before continuing its tour into June. Details can be found at http://www.priscillathemusical.com/uk-tour/home/

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

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