Theatre Review: Priscilla is salacious, saucy and screamingly funny
Johannesburg has thrown off the very few inhibitions it ever had and gone wild for a raunchy show that’s an anthem to gayness and personal liberation. By LESLEY STONES.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert is salacious, saucy and screamingly funny, and not just for the screaming queens. It’s outrageous entertainment that glitters and sparkles from the first moments when three divas descend from the ceiling.
Based on a massively iconic movie, Priscilla is the musical story of three Australian drag queens who head out in a camper van – the campest van you’ve ever seen – to perform in Alice Springs.
Along the way the flamboyant trio encounters adventure, prejudices, love, classic pop songs, mechanics, freedom and fulfilment, and 471 ridiculously garish costumes. You’ll laugh at the look and carry on laughing at the script, the mannerisms and the movements. It’s ludicrously funny if you’re in the mood for some delicious, decadent madness.
The show has been entirely stocked with South Africans, and the talent is tremendous. The leader of the expedition is Tick (Daniel Buys) who has a young son he finally needs to meet. Buys plays the role beautifully as camp but conflicted, with his sense of duty shining through.
He recruits veteran drag queen Bernadette (David Dennis) and hot-headed Felicia (Phillip Schnetler) who comes along to fulfil his ambition of singing a Kylie Minogue songs in full drag on Ayres Rock. “A cock in a frock on a rock” as he succinctly puts it.
Schnetler sometimes steals the show – like the moment when we’re suddenly in opera mode, with Felicia sitting on a giant shoe on top of a bus doing the splits to La Traviata.
Then the show belongs to the costumes, a parade of bizarre colourful creations with eye-popping naughtiness sewn in.
Sometimes the show belongs to the ridiculously sexy dancers. Or to the scriptwriters Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott, who have laced it with innuendo and lashings of saucy humour.
A lot of Priscilla involves taking the piss out of Australian culture – so what’s not to love.
The whole event is spectacular, with a full-sized bus, excellent lighting, perfect choreography, and a great story that’s bonkers but brilliantly told.
There are strong messages of morals in this story that some uptight souls might consider has no morals at all: the right to choose who you want to be and how you express yourself. There’s a lovely interplay of emotions, switching from exuberant high points to poignant moments in the bat of a well-upholstered eyelash.
The songs are a theatrical highpoint and all cleverly interwoven to carry the story forward, with the fashion madness of Go West, Boogie Wonderland, and of course I Will Survive, that paean to gayness. Some of the most hysterical moments are a Pop Muzik scene with Chantel Herman giving a Thai ping-pong ball performance, and the over-the-top fantasy of MacArthur Park, where I almost couldn’t breathe for laughing. Bryan Schimmel leads a full band in the orchestra pit giving us the hits and sometimes just soft background music to emphasise the mood.
James Borthwick plays Bob the mechanic in a role that sums up what the show is about – a gruff guy who sees something extraordinary and embraces it, rather than revile it.
Priscilla is a celebration of gay culture, but you don’t have to be gay to appreciate the humour, the superb performances and the storyline of chasing your dreams and the quest for happiness, in whatever format that might take for you.
Priscilla Queen of the Desert runs at The Teatro at Montecasino until June 18. Tickets from Computicket. DM
Photos: Lance Peterson and Nardus Engelbrecht.