Priscilla Queen of the Docklands

Priscilla_The Company - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo credit Paul Coltas (2)

If you like Donna Summer, the Village People, Kylie Minogue, or any other artist that alludes even the slightest sense of camp, you’ll love Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

The show, which is now in its seventh year since kicking off in Sydney in 2006, follows the adventures of three men who dress in drag and travel around the Australian outback in a giant bus named Priscilla. The cast includes Jason Donovan as Tick, who is seen in the opening of the show performing at a strikingly unglamorous club when his ex-wife asks if he could perform his drag act at her resort hotel. Enter Richard Grieve as Bernadette – an eccentric transsexual whose recent spate of bad luck leaves him destined for a change and Graham Weaver as Felicia whose explosive camp style brings him to the brink of extinction.

Priscill_Jason Donovan as Tick and Graham Weaver as Felicia - Priscilla Queen of the Desert - Photo credit Paul Coltas

Although Priscilla has a strong cast of amazingly camp characters, it’s the costumes that make the show shine. The show features some 500 pieces, all with their own personality and individual character traits. There are feathers, tight mermaid-like dresses, giant pink, blue and yellow hats that look like Bassetts Allsorts, slim suits, big suits, flower dresses, a dress made from sandals, safari dresses, a dress with ripped abs and a multi-coloured feathered hat.

“I didn’t realise it was going to be as difficult as it was,” said Lizzy Gardiner, the Costume Designer speaking to AOL. “The show just grew and got bigger and bigger and bigger and the costumes just got bigger and bigger and bigger. Every single costume on this show is a challenge.”

Most, if not all of the costumes used on the show, are for fun, including one costume named Wottle which is green with giant furry balls stuck all over it.

“It looks hilarious and ridiculous on a man on stage,” said Gardiner. “The thing about drag and men and dressing men as women is it sounds a lot more challenging than it actually is and the men love it.”
The flamboyance of the stage show is featured heavily in the original film version launched in Australia in 1994. The film, seen as groundbreaking for not flinching at the sight of men in drag, plays around with the long-held notion of masculinity and uses Adam

Whitely’s (Guy Pearce) flamboyance as something to laugh along with.
“Men in drag go way back,” said Dr. Harvey O’Brien a lecturer at UCD’s School of English, Drama and Film and the author of the new book concerning masculinity called Action Movies: The Cinema of Striking Back.

“Drag in comedy has also been around a long time, and you often got either plots or sub-plots about the necessity to dress in women’s clothes or assume a female identity. Usually, this was kept all thoroughly in the realm of heterosexuality though,” he said.

Both the stage shows and movie have used what Harvey calls the “sissy character” – a familiar gay stereotype where the man is used as a comedic pun.

“I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in the gay world or that some gay men aren’t camp, but we’re talking about a recurring stereotype here that’s used to signify ‘otherness’ or ‘difference’ in a non-threatening, comical way. It’s a clown part, though you are often allowed to see beneath the make-up and understand that they are human with human needs, you’re assumed to only be able to do so because you are safely distanced from them to begin with,” he said.

Despite this analysis, Priscilla Queen of The Desert, both the film and the stage show, show the gay man as a fighter. In one scene, used in both productions, a rather butch-looking woman approaches Bernadette in a club and says her kind isn’t welcome. Bernadette’s retort (too vile to include here) is hilariously funny and represents a moment when the gay man isn’t the victim.

The stage show of Priscilla Queen of The Desert opens in the Bord Gáis Theatre from Tuesday October 15th until Saturday October 26th. Tickets start at €20.

Main: The cast of Priscilla.
Above: Jason Donovan as Tick and Graham Weaver as Felicia.
Photos by Paul Coltas.

By Liam Cahill