Priscilla the Party is an immersive production of the famous Priscilla Queen of the Desert musical. The audience can sit at the sides or above the stage or stand amid the action as we follow the story of Tick, Adam/Felicia, and Bernadette, three Australian drag performers as they race to reach Alice Springs in time for a performance and for Tick to meet his son. The journey consists of logistical blunders, mechanical failures, and emotional twists and turns, all underpinned by a raucous soundtrack of iconic musical numbers. Throughout the performance and its two intervals, the bar is open and food is served (the vegan nachos were a particular highlight!) and audience members are encouraged to move around the floor with the performance, and dance along to the show. 

The most challenging aspect of this production is its dated script. When reviving a show that was first written decades ago, one must be aware of how the relevance of its language and themes has shifted. Notably, the sensitivity and depth with which it handles transphobia is sorely lacking. In fact, there are many interesting plot points and arcs of character development and relationship dynamics which are simply not explored in a way that is meaningful or impactful. While some of the script's jokes are excellently witty, many fall flat - please note, just because a fat person delivers them, jokes at the expense of someone's larger body (an interesting choice for a show about inclusion and being beautiful however you express yourself) aren't necessary or that funny. The crux of the matter is that this production does not know what it is trying to be: if simply a party, then cut the narrative almost completely and keep dancing the night away; if an immersive telling of the story, lean into the key narrative beats and don't gloss over difficult and heart-breaking themes eliciting nothing more than a pantomime "aww" from spectators. 

While the song choices are fantastic, some are not given the stage time and power they deserve (most memorably, 'Born This Way' feels like an understated afterthought, as opposed to an anthem which encompasses the entire message of the show).
The performances are all of a high standard, led by a gorgeously sincere Owain Williams as Tick; Reece Kerridge is effervescent and beautifully layered as Adam/Felicia; and Dakota Starr brings sass and class as Bernadette. It is a shame that too often the ensemble don't deliver the high energy this production necessitates, with two notable exceptions: William Elijah-Lewis gives his all to every single movement, vocal, and facial expression - we are captivated by him whenever he's on stage, and he completely understands what is required of this piece's ensemble; and Lucy Park astounds and delights in her small but memorable role as Cynthia - a gifted comedic performer, Park is a truly excellent addition to this cast. 

Our host, Gay Cliché played by Trevor Ashely, is fantastic - warm and engaging, with the savage wit you'd hope for in our compare for the evening, he guides us along and hypes us up with faaaabulous flare. 
In a fun and adorable moment of audience participation, the whole cast welcome the unexpected new cast member with open arms and guide them through their role with kindness and expertise. 

It is no surprise to discover that these costumes were designed by Oscar winners Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner, completely stealing the show - every detail of these extravagant themed get-ups is camp, extra, and fabulous in its purest form from top of the wig to toe! Another highlight of the production is the moving set which, similarly to the acclaimed Bridge Theatre Guys and Dolls, breaks apart and continually provides new and exciting set ups for the show. Frankly, even though the set-moving is manual as opposed to the automated stages in the aforementioned show, Priscilla uses this technique to far better effect without ever losing the audience through the story. We move around during less significant plot moments, and there's never a bad standing view in the house. At this point, the crowd-control staff members must be praised for their work, which never makes the audience feel unwelcome and only ever serves to further enhance the fun and party atmosphere! 

With some important kinks to iron out, Priscilla the Party is still a fun experience which will have you dancing the night away! It runs at Here at Outernet (Charing Cross Road) and is currently booking until the end of September. Tickets: here.

Review:: Penny Lane  Photo: Marc Brenner