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June 3 2018, Reviews The David Beach Competition

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert 

WODS Musical Theatre Company

The Playhouse Theatre

Weston-super-Mare

Saturday 2ndJune 2018

I realised last night that I mostly like two kinds of musical: 1) small, moody and ‘Off, Off Broadway’ and 2) especially brassy, ballsy camp-fests. Well, WODS’ Priscilla fell distinctly into the latter category: It had more brass than a pawn-broker’s shop sign, more balls than the World Cup and camp enough to impress a candy-striped unicorn.

Priscilla is the story of three characters: Drag Queen Mitzi Mitosis or Tick to his mates, his transsexual friend Bernadette, formerly Ralph and Bernadette’s friend, Drag Queen Felicia Jolly Good Fellow or Adam Whitely as he is know off-stage. The three agree to travel to Alice Springs to reunite Tick with his estranged son, Benji. Borrowing from ‘Mummy’ Tick buys Priscilla, a tour bus and the three caballeros hit the road for Alice, pausing occasionally to entertain the locals en route.

Every so often WODS pull out all the stops and give us a real blinder. Choosing the dream-team combination of Director Laura Grace and Musical Director Annie Ford was the first, inspired step. Their imprint on the show was clear throughout: a musical punch to match any champion heavyweight and direction that let the colour and joy flow like a great rainbow river. Adding Choreographers Aaron Pengelly and Carrie Jayne completed the creative team, all that was missing was a cast.

Casting the three male leads is a real make or break for this show. In Mike Purnell, Craig Sillick and Will Taylor WODS were right on the money. This was not the first time I have seen Mike’s Bernadette and it was fascinating to see the subtle changes in his performance he made to suit his two new partners’ styles. He knows his craft and once again inhabited the role to terrific effect – funny, touching, scary and immensely likeable all at once. Craig, as Tick is a new performer to me and he truly impressed: a superb singing voice in combination with an eye-catching stage presence really making his character tick (sorry I can’t resist a terrible pun). Any casting couch rumours regarding the role of Felicia Jollygoodfellow were instantly dispelled as Will Taylor (partner of the Director) stepped elegantly onto the stage and gave a fabulous performance: singing, dancing and mincing spectacularly.

Supporting roles were strong, too: The Divas, Bethany Mathers, Natasha Green (who was quite simply superb) and Lisa Frost sang up a storm, looking magnificent in drag queen wigs and shiny, shiny dresses; Malcolm Harris, reprising his role as Bob added a calm and very watchable quality; Beth Wadsworth was head-turning and very funny as the ping-pong ball aficionado Cynthia, James Densley was hilarious as Miss Understanding, Freddie Jones was very believable as Benji (I also hear good things about his double, Joe Callister) and a brief mention too for Kevin Wheeler if only for his shameless upstaging whilst dressed in a beautiful purple priest’s robes complete with stockings, suspenders and high heels. There were many more.

On the technical side: Sound, light and stage management all worked well – every word was clear (not always the case at the Playhouse), the stage was bright, clear and very attractive. But it was the costume department who won the day: Visual spectacle was achieved time and time again with fabulous, dazzling, tasteless colour and texture enough to bring tears to Laura Ashley’s eye. The dressers must have shed pounds.

So was this the perfect show? Well, I won’t come the raw prawn with you and say ‘yes‘, but flamin’ nearly: For me moments like the lovely paintbrushes entering the stage for Colour My World could have had a little more energy (not easy in a paintbrush costume, I’m sure), Felicia’s bus-top aria was a little long and I did wonder if Tick’s character might have been a tiny bit less camp, juxtaposed against his companions to heighten his angst? But that was about it – I loved it!

Laura Grace is at the top of her game at the moment it will be exciting to see where she lands next. Annie Ford is stepping away from the theatre for a spell, I understand. She will be greatly missed. Watching her rescue more than one singer last night, bringing them back to safety by singing at them, whilst maintaining great control over her superb band reminded me how good she is. And WODS: keep up the great work. You have certainly coloured my world with sunshine.

Thanks for inviting me

Ian