Sunday, May 1, 2022



Joe Dinn (Tick) - Jarrad West (Bernadette) - Connor Banks Griffith (Adam)

(Photo: Helen Musa)

Written by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott.

Directed by Jarrad West – Associate Director: Steph Robert

Choreographed by Michelle Heine – Musical Direction by Alexander Unikowski

Costumes designed by Fiona Leach – Set Design by R James Entertainment.

Lighting designed by Phillip Goodwin – Sound Design by Nick Cossart.

Presented by Free – Rain Theatre Company.

The Q - Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre - 26th April to 22nd May

Opening Night Performance on 28th April reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Over the years, Free- Rain Theatre Company have earned an enviable reputation for the quality of its musical theatre productions. Unfortunately their current production of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” will do little to add to that reputation. As presented on its opening night, despite the best efforts of all concerned, it fell well below Free-Rain’s best efforts.

Premiered in 2006 the musical “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is based on the highly successful 1994 Australian film, “The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert”. It quickly became one of the most successful Australia musicals ever, enjoying productions on the West End and Broadway as well as other countries around the world. Its accolades include nominations for Olivier Awards, as well as Helpmann and Tony Awards in the costume design category.

Part of the attraction of the musical is its affecting story following the adventures of Bernadette, an ageing trans woman and former Les Girls star, and two professional drag queens Tick and Adam who convince Bernadette to join them in an adventure travelling across Australia in a bus they’ve nicknamed “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. Their destination is Alice Springs, where Tick has accepted an engagement from his ex-wife, Marion, to present a drag show at her venue. Unbeknown to the others, Tick’s motive for accepting the engagement was to allow him to reconnect with his young son, Benjie, who has been questioning Marion about his father.

Other attractions of this show include the clever way popular 1980’s  pop and disco songs have been woven into the score to underline significant moments in the story, and And while the witty and wonderful award-winning costume designs which incorporated iconic Australiana.

The costumes in this production were a major disappointment. The mammoth task of providing, according to the program, in excess of 400 costume items needed for this show seems to have defeated Free Rain Theatre’s indefatigable costumier, Fiona Leach and her team.

While it’s not necessary to duplicate the original costume design, there is opportunity to re-interpret them. An excellent example of that in this production is a re-interpretation of the iconic thong dress where Covid masks replace the thongs, teamed with a headdress representing the Covid sphere. However the effect of these costumes is ruined by the many ill-fitting poorly made costumes which should never have been allowed on stage.

The three Divas, for example, who should be the epitome of disco glamour, instead are costumed in dowdy, ill-fitting outfits and scruffy wigs.  Professional drag artists are fastidious about their costumes so it’s hard to imagine that any would have presented themselves in the outfits chosen for the climatic Alice Springs show that was meant to wow Alice Springs, and in particular, Tick’s son, Benjie.

Elsewhere there seemed to be little cohesion in the costume design. Many outfits looked as though they had been thrown together with components pulled out of wardrobe with little attention given to style, appropriateness or even to whether they fitted the wearers.  Scruffy wigs, even for the principals, and ill-fitting headdresses which forced their wearers to hold on to them to prevent them from falling off, seriously detracted from the overall look of show.

Cupcake dance - Priscilla Queen of the Desert"

Photo: Janelle McMenamin.

Among the lead performances, despite being hampered by unflattering wigs and costumes, Jarrad West gives an impressive performance in the leading role as Bernadette, managing to invest her with dignity and warmth. These qualities were particularly evident in his second-act scenes with the mechanic Bob, another lovely performance by Pat Gallaher once again exhibiting his ability to bring an unaffected authenticity to his characterisations. West even provided convincing proof of Bernadette’s skills as the star of Les Girls in the climatic Darwin cabaret scene, something Terence Stamp was unable to manage in the film.

Having played the role of Tick for four years in Europe with Norwegian cruise line, Joe Dinn brought confidence and a fine singing voice to this role, neatly nailing his big scene with Benji, played by 11 year-old, Zavier Martin in his first stage role, with a sweet rendition of “Always On My Mind”. 

As the third member of the trio, the young, impulsive and charmless drag artist, Felicia, Garrett Kelly pushed rather too hard at the wilfulness, making it hard to sympathise or care about his horrifying poofter bashing. This was also the case with Jessica Marchant’s curious choice to play Tick’s ex-wife, Marion as ditsy and disorganised, rather than efficient and warm, and the over-the-top, bizarre performance by Dave Collins as Miss Understanding.

Dancers - Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Photo: Janelle McMenamin

Steph Maclaine provided an unexpected highlight with her magnificent singing of “Sempre Libra”.  Michelle Heine stumped up with her usual inventive choreography for the many colourful musical numbers, performed by the large ensemble with enthusiasm but rather less precision than we’re used to seeing from Free-Rain. Alexander Unikowski kept toes tapping with his fine band providing irresistible, spot-on accompaniments.  Priscilla herself proved impressive if rather cumbersome, as did the large, curiously under-used setting. 

However, despite the best efforts of all concerned, and the boisterous first-night claque who did their best to convince that this production was as good as it should have been, the end impression was that with “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”, Free-Rain Theatre had bitten off more than it could manage, ending up with a mis-guided, under-rehearsed bargain basement version of a show that demands otherwise.