FROM the moment the curtain rose to reveal a blue, spangly backdrop and three silver-sequinned Divas descending from the ceiling, I knew we were going to be in for a good night.
Never having seen the film, I had only a vague idea of what Priscilla was about, but was quickly blown away by the talent in the 66th production by the Bournemouth and Boscombe Light Opera Company.
Based on the 1994 Oscar-winning movie of the same name, the show follows the journey of two drag queens and a transgender woman as they travel across Australia in an old bus, named Priscilla.
Packed full of hits including It’s Raining Men, Venus, Go West, I Will Survive, Hot Stuff and Boogie Wonderland, it was high energy from the opening number, giving the cast the chance to showcase some seriously impressive vocals – namely from Lea Martin as Tick, Sam Compton as Adam and the three Divas With 500 of the most bizarre, but beautiful costumes I’ve ever seen, and some clever scenery and props, there was an absolute professionalism about this amateur production.
Martin, AKA Tick, and Bryan Newman played their parts convincingly, but for me, the stand-out star was Compton, who was clearly born to play the part of flamboyant Adam.
Two hours of good, not particularly clean fun and loads of laughs as well as some more poignant moments earned the cast a very well-deserved standing ovation.
I wanted to be up on stage with them – the ultimate girls’ night out.
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 PriscillaCostumes 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.
BBLOC are notorious in the area for delivering high class productions that are popular year after year. It is a delight to see a company take a risk with a production such as Priscilla especially just after the celebration that is Bournemouth Pride weekend.
The publicity for this show has been first rate, with weekly video snippets teasing the hard work of the company and production team. I went in with high expectations. I went out with a grin from ear to ear.
Based on the Oscar-winning film, Priscilla is the story of three friends who hop aboard a bus bound for Alice Springs to put on the show of a lifetime, with some very known dance floor classics thrown in. Put simply, if you do not witness Lea Martin, Bryan Newman and Sam Compton’s in these principal roles then you will have missed some of the finest performances in the south coast. All three worked tirelessly to bring energy, raw motion and comedy to their parts.
Other stand out performances were Jenny Corbin, Jenny Houston and Natalie Proctor as the knock-out Diva’s, whom all had a chance to show off individually with their incredible vocals. John Gerken with his delightful portrayal of Bob, Kirstie Rogers as the flamboyant (and hilarious) Cynthia, Ali Davis as the entertaining Miss Understanding and Jacob Skipper as the heart wrenching Benji.
In truth, all the cast were simply incredible, they worked to a professional standard under the direction of the inspired Helen Barrington and excellent choreography by Carly Simmerling, with some wonderful harmonies which accompanied the terrific band led by Musical Director Ian Peters.
Every element of the production was of West End standard. From the unbelievable costumes courtesy of ‘Carry On Costumes’, Olly Whites dazzling lighting design to set supplied by Scenic Project Ltd – all worked tremendously well together to provide a backdrop for the performers to shine.
Whilst technically amateur, this production is anything but. If there is one production you should see this year it’s right here, with performances until Saturday 22nd. But hurry, tickets are (quite rightly) selling fast!
In a word – fabulous! Priscilla is an awe-inspiring spectacle packed with disco fever, glamour and a rollercoaster of emotions.
Having not seen the film, I entered the theatre with only a vague idea of what was in store. My mind was open for captivation and captivated it was.
The curtain rose as three divas floated down from the rafters, belting a heart-pounding rendition of “It’s Raining Men”, with sequin-studded sensation ‘Miss Understanding’ (played by Ali Davis) joining them on-stage with a mash-up of Tina Turner. The first act flowed seamlessly from song to song and the integration of pop songs into the main storyline was flawless.
Some particular highlights from the first half included Felica’s (played by Sam Compton) rendition of “Venus” – never has a band of disco-angels looked or sounded so good! Which brings me onto the ensemble, who made every scene a whirlwind of high-energy and harmonious vocals and never was that more true than in the cast’s performance of “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, where we meet the glamorous ‘Bernadette’ for the very first time. I can’t pick a favourite because that would seriously undermine the work of an inclusively amazing cast, but I might go as far as to say that I had a little soft spot for Bernadette (can I say that?), who was played by Bryan Newman. Newman’s character portrayal of a sophisticated, transgender women, was so full of wit and moreish arrogant charm that I wanted to run on stage and become best friends.
The team continues their journey across the Australian desert in the second half, where we meet lovable Bob (John Gerken) and his to quote, “mail-order bride”, Cynthia (Kirstie Rodgers). I can’t forget to mention Rodgers’ incredible performance of “Pop Musik” in a perfect, broken accent – I was in stitches and her dancing was incredible throughout.
We get to see a whole new side of the story in act two, where you get a little glimpse into the reality of transgender life. Love, bullying and family are all themes covered so beautifully by our three main characters – especially by lead character Tick (aka Lea Martin), with his tear-jerking cover of Elvis’ “Always On My Mind”.
It’s hard to believe I haven’t mentioned it sooner, but this show wouldn’t be the amazing spectacle it was without the countless incredible costumes, wigs and make-up, oh and the phenomenal set.
Our show ended with one of the most bedazzling bow sequences I have ever seen, with more sequins, more lights and more flamboyant costumes than ever. The finale stirred the audience into a standing ovation, which was well deserved.
Helen Barrington (Director), Carly Simmerling (Choreographer) and Ian Peter (Musical Director) are clearly a forced to be reckoned with on the am-dram scene. The simple yet effective choreography, paired with excellent delivery of lines and a foot-tapping soundtrack are evidence of their and the cast’s talent. Thank you Bournemouth and Boscombe Light Opera Company for an incredible evening and break a leg for the remaining shows!
When BBLOC announced they were planning to put on ‘Priscilla Queen of Desert’ it caused a buzz to ripple through other theatre companies in the area. One group told me that they had lost all their young men because they had gone to be in Priscilla. If I had been thirty years younger I would have joined the queue.
The Original West End production took London by storm and this amazing BBLOC production took Bournemouth by storm. It was an outstanding production from start to finish. I am sure that the Bournemouth Pavilion has never staged a production, professional or otherwise, to match this one.
The atmosphere in the packed auditorium felt amazing as the audience joined in and sang along to many of the big production numbers and it was no surprise at all to see everyone on their feet during the final number.
Playing the two drag queens, Tick (Lea Martin) and Adam (Sam Compton) were two performers who are quite well known on the Bournemouth cabaret circuit, both of whom were fantastic, but in my opinion, Bryan Newman, playing the transgender woman Bernadette, stole the show with a totally believable and faultless performance.
Each and every member of the cast put their heart into this show and they looked as if they were enjoying every second. The flying Divas, Bob, Cynthia and Shirley were all superb. However, it was the magnificent costumes, wigs and headdresses that were specially made for this production by Carry on Costumes, that gave the show its final polish.
I think for once the sound system at the Pavilion Theatre was free of gremlins and with the excellent orchestra, the sound balance was near perfect.
The BBLOC production certainly rates as one of the best shows that I have seen. As the curtain came down at the end of the performance, I said to my wife “It’s going to be one hell of a party on Saturday night”. Her reply was “I want to come and see it again” and as soon as we arrived home she got on line and booked for the Saturday night.