REVIEW: Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Sunderland Empire, until Saturday, September 5

Simon Green, Duncan James and Adam Bailey in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
Simon Green, Duncan James and Adam Bailey in Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Take one battered bus, three fabulous drag queens and a host of dazzling costumes that wouldn’t look out of place in Lady Gaga’s wardrobe and you’ve got the recipe for the ride of your life.

Priscilla has returned to the region in spectacular fashion. Camp as Christmas and more sparkley than a glitterball, it’s one of the most infectiously feel-good shows on the circuit.

The new tour of Priscilla Queen of the Desert

The new tour of Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Tasked with leading the outrageous troupe on this new tour is Blue’s Duncan James as Tick.

A muscle-bound tattooed boyband member isn’t the most likely of choices when casting a role where the wigs are even higher than the heels but Duncan managed to channel his inner diva deliciously.

Last time I saw this show Jason Donovan was donning the platforms, but I preferred Duncan’s portrayal of the drag queen dad who’s balancing flamboyancy with fatherhood - though his accent isn’t quite as good as the native Aussie’s, obviously,

Duncan’s years in the charts came in particularly handy for ballads I Say a Little Prayer and True Colours, which showed off his well-honed gravelly tones.

Duncan James as Tick and Benji

Duncan James as Tick and Benji

But you don’t come to Priscilla for the slow songs. It’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Hot Stuff, Go West and Venus which will transport you from Sunderland to a Sydney superclub.

As the trio of queens make their way from Sydney to Alice Springs, they take you on rollercoaster of disco tunes and diva costumes. Whip-wielding gladiators, cowboys in metallic chaps, prancing cupcakes, shimmering codpieces and more sequins than you can shake a feather boa at - this tour’s costume department must be the dressing up box of dreams.

Joining Tick for the ride is the loud and proud Felicia, played with great lasciviousness by Adam Bailey, and the more refined Bernadette (Simon Green).

Green has a knack for comic timing and he executes transsexual Bernadette’s acerbic one-liners perfectly - but be warned, this script isn’t for the easily-offended. There’s a particular anecdote pertaining to a ginger biscuit and a trumpet that can’t be repeated in a family newspaper, but it had me giggling like a schoolgirl.

Fabulous staging

Fabulous staging

But that’s what makes this show such fun, it celebrates individuality with glee and laughs in the face of the insular homophobic hicks the trio encounter along the way.

The characters they meet aren’t all hostile. Thai bride Cynthia, played by Julie Yammanee, is a pocket rocket of energy and she manages to bring a whole new meaning to Pop Muzic with her ping pong ‘trick’.

It was all going so well until life imitated art and the bus broke down in real life, forcing an impromptu curtain fall in the second act. I imagine there was some furious mechanics going on backstage as the audience waited 20 minutes for the action to get going again.

But it’s testament to the show that once it got up and running we soon got swept back up in the fabulousness.

Life's a drag

Life's a drag

Despite technical glitches, the travellers make it to their destination where Tick meets his estranged son Benji, scenes which hit the right note of paternal longing, and the friends put on the show of their lives.

The final scene is a crescendo of gaudiness as Australian symbols, from koalas to kookaburras, are given a drag makeover. There’s even a sartorial ode to the Sydney Opera House.

Taste has been left at the door here, but if you don’t leave with a smile on your face you’re a flamin’ gallah.

The cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert

The cast of Priscilla Queen of the Desert