Priscilla, apart from being one of the most definitive pieces of Australian cinematography, was, upon its release in 1994, sensational in the way it presented queer culture as something of strength, and deeply relate-able. Aside from the films beauty and artistic merit, it paved the way for so many that came later. When we look at this work, now in present form, how much of its edge has begun to lessen, and why? The fault here clearly lies in the hands of the producers.
In this 10th anniversary edition of the musical adaptation, we begin with a decent serve of fierce glamour and over the top theatrics: as expected opening numbers are strong, and do initially promise something great. However, this production does not deliver. Instead, what is served up is so far from what the original film so deftly portrayed, erased is the fear, isolation, violence and loneliness that was, and still very much forms a part of the narrative and life story of so many within LGTIQ communities. It is now nothing more than a glorified drag show, the kind of performance that many have and can experience outside of theatre, in venues and in bars across the world – indeed, one must remember the role that drag queens have played in history, the Stonewall Riots being a significant example. What this production is also missing, is the intimacy afforded to finding drag still inhabiting the space in which it emerged. It is not to much of a stretch to say, that here drag has been exploited for financial gain.
Tony Sheldon, misses the mark completely in the role of Bernadette, as he seemingly sleep walks through this production: this character’s hardened demeanour is gone, replaced instead by a woman that has been softened by age. In fact, the question needs answering, as to why the producers did not take the opportunity with both hands and cast a trans-actress in this role. If only the issues with casting stopped here, but it doesn’t and it gets worse. In the original film, when our characters are broken down in the outback, they come across Jimmy, an Indigenous fella who introduces this motley crew of drag queens to his mob, who here are instead replaced by a group of international tourists; all stereotypes and offense. Lets get one thing straight: in 2018 such white washing and racism, is not acceptable. If the producers wish to hide behind the excuse of there not being enough Indigenous talent in the country, they should give me a call, as I could offer them a long list of Indigenous performers that could have brought much needed life, relevance and substance to this work.
The most brutal of scenes from the film is shifted into Act II, and instead of truthfully portraying the fear and violence associated with these kind of aggressive attacks it is all glitter and jazz hands once again. Any person that has been attacked for their sexuality or appearance would be dumb founded by this productions insensitivity. But this production is not made for or as representation of LGBTIQ communities or, for that matter, any marginalized group – it is aimed squarely at the mainstream, with its glossed over finish, and ability to sweep under the rug any truths that are deemed too difficult to deal with.
Productions of this calibre have the opportunity and, dare it be said, duty to progress ideas that are missing from the conversation. Just because we achieved marriage equality does not mean for the LGBTIQ communities it is now, all sunshine and rainbows. But if you are ok with blatant racism, white washing, and, can close your eyes and pretend that the struggle for acceptance is done and dusted, than this production is for you.