We were promised, thanks to massive thunderstorms, an electric evening and boy, did BBLOC deliver! Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, surely their finest staging yet, is a night to remember.
For many, the story will be familiar from the much-loved movie of the same name. Two drag queens (Tick and Adam) and a transgender woman (Bernadette) travel across Australia in a bus from Sydney to Alice Springs, with lots of fabulous adventures along the way. The musical embraces the gorgeousness of drag, all glitter-balls, false eyelashes, stunning costumes and exuberantly performed classic anthems, while still taking a journey of the heart for each of the three main characters.
The BBLOC cast are phenomenal and you have to pinch yourself to remember that this is an amateur production – it is as polished and professional as you can get without travelling to London. The show literally hits the heights from the very start, with the three Divas (Jenny Corbin, Jenny Houston and Natalie Proctor) flying onto the stage and bringing the house down with ‘It’s raining men’. From that moment the audience know they are in for a treat and the three girls perform superbly throughout the show, singing the big numbers for the queens to lip-sync with. Ali Davis is stunning as Miss Understanding. In other, smaller roles, Jo Uzzell as the lugubrious Shirley, Laura-Jayne Hargrave as Marion and Kirstie Rogers as the ‘gymnastic’ (you have to see it) Cynthia are equally well cast. John Gerken plays the mechanic, Bob, with great sensitivity, bringing a tear to the eye with the ironic ‘A fine romance’. There are many more tears summoned up by a beautiful performance from Jacob Skipper as young Benji, Tick’s son (Luke Musselwhite will be playing the role as well).
The absolute stars of the night are Lea Martin (Tick), Bryan Newman (Bernadette) and Sam Compton (Adam): faultless, brilliant, amazing performances from all three of them. Lea is perfect as Tick/Mitzi Mitosis, the tired drag queen desperate to reconnect with his young son and taking the journey in Priscilla (the bus) to do it. He is a fine actor with a gorgeous voice, who has the rare ability to be able to act with it. This was perfectly illustrated in the wonderfully poignant ‘You were always on my mind’, where there was hardly a dry eye in the house. Sam Compton is delicious as the young blowsy, bitchy, camp queen Adam/Felicia, but he truly captures the audience’s hearts as a broken man following the homophobic attack. Bryan Newman plays the recently bereaved transsexual, Bernadette, with such brilliance it is breathtaking. You completely believe in this wise woman, the very heart and soul of the group. A real tour de force. If you go to see the show for only one thing, then go to see Bryan.
The stunning costumes must surely be the fourth star of the evening, brilliant copies of the original show, far beyond anything you are ever likely to see on a Bournemouth stage. The cast and ensemble’s dancing is outstanding, with fantastic choreography by Carly Simmerling. Her connection to Carry On Costumes meant that the cast are the first to use them. As someone said to me, ‘For the first time ever, we all have costumes that fit!’ Helen Barrington, director, and Ian Peters, musical director, are the ones responsible for pulling this fabulous show together, although huge credit must go to Emma Wogan, producer and, more importantly, stage manager, because to make a show this complex run so smoothly takes massive talent and a steely nerve. Mention must also be made of the tremendous ensemble, who work so hard – gosh, are they fabulous!
An opening night standing ovation by an audience of nearly 2000 is a monumental achievement and I simply cannot recommend this wonderful show enough. There won’t be many tickets available as word spreads, so get yours while you can. It is one of the best shows I have ever seen and there is simply nothing to fault. Go see it! You can do so from 19 to 22 July at 7.30 with a matinée on Saturday at 2.30.