Review – Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical!, Palace Theatre

Thursday 19 March 2009

priscilla-queen-of-the-desert-the-musical-posterImagine, if you will, this extremely unlikely – nay, preposterous – scenario:

The Whingers are at a party; they are the only sober ones there.

It was rather disquieting to find out what that feels like. But that’s how it was at Tuesday’s preview performance of Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical! at the beautiful Palace Theatre in Cambridge Circus.

The production had already deposited a rather large sum in the Whingers’ resentment bank:

1. Hackles had been raised by the introduction of an iniquitous Premium Seating policy which puts top price tickets at £92.50 (£95.25 including booking fee). Haven’t they heard the R word? We had hoped that the Young Frankenstein lesson had been learned here.

outside-priscilla2. The best option seemed to be to go for a group booking which required Phil to purchase 10 tickets but resulted in him buying 13 which didn’t bode well.

3. Plus Phil wasn’t that keen on the 1995 source material the first time he saw it.

4. The Palace has adopted the Palladium’s “squeeze ’em all in to the stalls through one tiny door” approach which fanned the flames  of their indignation.

5. The final gallon of paraffin came in the form of a packed audience (which for some queer reason consisted mainly of single men accompanied by what in less enlightened times were called “fag hags”, plus a few hen parties) all pumped up to to enjoy whatever was put before them. What kind of a theatregoing attitude is that?

Yes there was whooping, cheering, applauding and hysterical laughter at just about anything from the very off and the Whingers were obliged to effect their most decidedly cantankerous countenances. Honestly, when was the last time you heard an audience applaud the arrival of a bus? Ridiculous. Within three minutes of the curtain going up Andrew was already planning his interval escape.

But then something rather curious happened.

Rather like a horror film in which the only normal people left are bitten by zombies and transformed into frothing, deranged creatures the Whingers were entered by the spirit of Priscilla. Not whooping, of course. That is for Americans. But grinning like idiots, laughing like drains and applauding like there was no tomorrow.

Resistance was not only futile, it had drained away like cheap mascara under a waterfall of tears. And despite all their years of training in being thoroughly resistant to fun, not only did the Whingers enjoy themselves, they really, really enjoyed themselves. So much so that come the curtain call they found themselves leaping to their feet and ovating.


We could easily list a couple of dozen good reasons for going to see it but much of the joy derived from the surprises so although we are bursting to reveal the gag that precedes the dancing cup-cakes (right), we shall resist.

Nor will we talk about the road-kill gags nor explain how one of Phil’s favourite tunes “Pop Musik” is shoe-horned into the (such as it is) plot (although those familiar with the original movie will probably guess).

The catalogue of famous songs are slotted in, Mamma Mia! style, surprisingly well and they do of course put the show at a huge advantage in terms of audience goodwill.”I’ve Never Been To Me”, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, “I Love The Nightlife”, “A Fine Romance”, “Always On My Mind” – the list of top notch foot tappers goes on and on and on.

The divas who sing those numbers which are lip-synched are fantastic as are the lead performances – in particular Tony Sheldon as transexual Bernadette and Oliver Thornton as Adam/Felicia.

At one point Phil even swears he heard a biological clock ticking over the pumping disco music as Andrew went rather soppy over the child who plays Tick/Mitzi’s (Jason Donovan) son.

And then there are the costumes, the wonderful, ridiculous, audacious costumes designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzie Gardiner.

And the wigs.2794469315_5f0b360186

Oh yes and the bus. We’d hate to reveal how they paint it pink, but it’s terribly clever. But then the titular bus does other tricks too. It’s infinitely superior to the double decker in the embarrassingly bad Beijing/London Olympics handover ceremony which looked possibly ripped off from inspired by PQOTD (the show has been knocking around since 2006 when it opened in Sydney) with its bits and bobs opening and closing and things popping out of it all over the place (aren’t we good not spoiling it for you?). In fact if they had been even more astute they’d have pinched the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang idea of getting it to take a bow. It certainly deserved one.

Yes and we’ve already almost forgotten about the sound balance which at the point of this preview needs considerable work and the technical glitch (sequins in the drive wheel?) that stopped the show for five minutes on Tuesday night. At least it gave us a chance to discuss what fun we were having, go to the loo and almost reach the bar.

Yes, we liked it, despite the fact that it’s basically panto for adults (although there is nothing wrong with that). To be honest, had the opportunity been there we would probably have gone straight back in and watched the entire thing over again.  Rather like the Busby Berkeley musicals of the Great Depression, it’s a show of over-the-top opulence which sticks a rather tall stiletto heel in the gloomy face of recession.

Take the Whingers’ word for it: get your tickets now (though eschew the Premium Seating and seats towards the back side aisles*).

Oh and don’t read the press critics either, many of whom are miserable buggers who will no doubt reveal Priscilla‘s myriad surprises. You may even emerge giggling about ginger-nuts and with a gloriously beaming smile like Andrew’s. But please don’t let that possibility put you off.


* Some in the Whinger’s party missed parts of the show due to bad sightlines. From about row L of the stalls backwards seats (towards the side aisles) the view is considerably obscured due to the overhang of the circle. Baz Bamigboye reported his own problems here. Reports that other parts of the theatre suffer are proliferating, especially here on Theatremonkey. The producers should drop the price of these seats and sell them as “restricted view”.

And did we mention we strongly disapprove of the Premium Seating policy? Not even the Pink Pound is recession proof.

Emily the front of house woman chocolate and champagne purveyor is a delight. While the producers are mulling over their ridiculous premium seating policy and lowering the prices of the restricted view seats perhaps they could spend a few moments discussing giving Emily a raise. She certainly knows how to shift her Flake Moments and with a smile.


27 Responses to “Review – Priscilla Queen of the Desert – The Musical!, Palace Theatre”

  1. Whingers, I know that this production has most certainly changed since I first saw it in Sydney ( This American couldn’t help but enjoy this over the top show.

  2. webcowgirl Says:

    Oh, wow. I really want to go but when I saw Spamalot there from the balcony I couldn’t see half of the stage. And I just can’t afford the top price tickets. *sigh* Maybe I’ll get them from some sugar daddy as a birthday present or something. I’m not willing to have this show made a crap experience by the sightlines at the theater, especially at the prices they’re charging.

  3. Mark I Says:

    Ha ha! I lol’d after the first two sentences!!

  4. JohnnyFox Says:

    Your roving reporter in the FRONT stalls (A24 and close enough to read the score on the piano as well as rather unnerve the keyboards player) can add to this:

    1. Everything in this show is waxed within an inch of its life. And I am not talking about the paintwork on the bus.

    2. Anyone closer than row C should really take an umbrella because this is an extremely hard-working cast largely in polyester costumes and giant acrylic wigs and perspiration is flung copiously with every kick-turn.

    3. Likewise, see it within the first month because the frocks will be standing up on their own after that.

    4. Who, in negotiation with whatever Disney/Kafkaesque corporation currently owns the rights, failed to secure permission to finish with the Abba routine Wasn’t that the whole point of PQOTD?

    If there is a planned return to the scene of the scream, count me in.

    • Paul Says:

      Hmm I want to go see a front row seat next time… Would love to see it in Sweat-o-rama…

      Mamma Mia probably ended any chance of stage rights to ABBA music… This is probably not such a bad thing…

  5. Graham Says:

    Who’d’ve thought Dame Judi and Michael Grandage would be outclassed by Jason Donovan in a frock and a dancing fairy cake?

  6. […] get some cheap seats! By webcowgirl It is frustrating to read a raving thumbs up like the West End Whingers’ review of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and realize it may be months, even a year, before I get to see the show. A money hit in London can […]

  7. @webcowgirl: Please let me know when you want to watch this and I’ll come with you!

    @Andrew: Did you just say 3 seats and not 3 seating areas?

  8. @ feignedmischief: three seats.

  9. David Says:

    Bravo, WEWs (as usual),
    We were there on Tuesday night and enjoyed the bus going out of commission. We were sitting in top price (NOT premium) seats on the side of the dress circle and these were definitely restricted view (one third of the stage obscured) – with no price reduction – I wonder what the trading standards office would say? Is a WEW anti greed campaign in the offing?

  10. Amanda Says:

    We were also there on Tuesday when Priscilla broke down. We had great seats with perfect views from row J 6&7. Also, we only paid £48.50 each which was apparently a preview price. I would love to see the show again and found it hilarious, but my heart still belongs to La Cage and Douglas!

  11. TimC Says:

    Phew, glad the WEW loved the show and disagree with all those silly critics. Two stars indeed! Hurrrumph! We attended Thursday 19th show which passed with much hilarity, cheering, whooping, applause, a standing-o (of course) and no technical glitches. I was worried about potential sightline problems beforehand as we were on the centre aisle of row D in the upper circle (£30 each) but we actually had a brilliant view. Thoroughly recommend this area to those who want to see this wonderful show but don’t want to break the bank. Check out with beforehand to ensure you are not buying a lemon.

  12. Sandy G Says:

    Just for your information, the same company up in North Yorkshire called Stage One built BOTH buses and the reat of the Priscilla set.

  13. Sandy G Says:

    Grrr… I meant “rest of the Priscilla set”…

  14. Saw this last night, still getting my personal thoughts together though my professional response is positive (this is a case of writing for your audience.)

    Like the Whingers, I expected to hate it. Unlike the Whingers, I left amused but not amazed. I’m glad I went as press and didn’t pay £82.50 for my seat, especially since we were near one of the restricted view monitors and the glow was distracting.

  15. MLP Says:

    OK – I was in London from the US for 48 hours and we did splurge and buy the premium seats, Row D. Show was utterly fantastic, well worth the splurge!!!

  16. Pedro Says:

    I’m sorry to say that we had booked best tickets some time ago and only when we took them last Saturday night did we realise that we would have a restricted view. It is a wonderful show and I would really like to go again but only if I can see it all and am part of the action. I think it is a disgrace that these seats with restricted visibility are not being advertised as such – £64 for a seat and some of the most dramatic moments are unsighted…

    • Daniel Says:

      The Best Seats Are H – A of the dress circle!!!!!!

      I Sat row B and then at the matinee i got up and walked around and saw that the tier ends at row h so DRESS CIRCLE its WORTH EVERY PENNY!!! HONESTLY!!

  17. […] at The Palace, home of the worst seats I’ve ever experienced in London. But then I saw the West End Whingers’ drooling review. My God, I thought, I may be mistaken! In fact, their review filled me with an incredible desire to […]

  18. Daniel Says:

    From Jersey Boys to Wicked
    Hairspray to Mamma Mia!

    And I Haven’t Be So Impressed and Filled With Happiness as Much as i did when i saw this!
    Im Gettin Tickets Again!

    Jason Donavon was AMAZING!
    Tony Sheldon was Phenomenal!
    Oliver Thornton was FAN-BLOODY-TASTIC (sexy aswell)

    It Was Just AMAZING!!

    Costume,The Coach,Set And Singing!

    5 Stars


    Get Your Tickets Now!

    Daniel x

  19. colin vaines Says:

    Just caught up with it last night – fan-bloody-tastic. The cast are all still working their tits off, and the audience (rightly) stood up and ovated WEW-stylee at the end. You boys – as ever – got it 100 per cent right with your review.

  20. JKH Says:

    Meh, wasn’t that good…
    heh heh heh.

    My favourite moment is still outside where I heard a little girl say ‘Oooh, Priscilla,is it anything like Cinderella?’


  21. […] tickets for Jerusalem now” will send me immediately to my computer. Every now and then we utterly disagree on a show; but mostly they are like having my own private theatrical pimp. I like […]

  22. Jay Says:

    Oh boys, boys, boys, boys, BOYS. What were you thinking? You were so right-on about “Holding the Man” and so terribly funny about the squirrels in “Love The Sinner” and so adorably gay when you gushed over Ms Catrall in “Private Knobs”. HOW can men of such taste and erudition claim to love “Priscilla”? It was like being stuck in a karaoke bar in Blackpool with 2000 middle-aged housewives with bingo wings and moulting feather boas, and the occasional shrieking chihuahua gay. It was bland, soulless and migraine-inducing. It bleached out all the pathos and edginess from the film and turned it into a glossy, Mum-friendly, bum-sex free version of gay/drag culture that made me want to hurl into my court shoes and then empty over the head of the nearest cheap blonde rinse sitting next to me. (There were several). I’m all for musicals being big and camp and silly, and Tim & Lizzie’s costumes were delightful, but watching this musical made me imagine the cast of Sondheim’s “Assassins” taking the stage and slaughtering those goddam homos in their big stupid pink bus.

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