Interview with Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical
The International smash hit Priscilla Queen of the Desert the musical will be making its way to The Towngate theatre, Basildon in a new production by The Players Theatre Company from 27th – 30th June 2018. With the show only, weeks away I was able to attend a recent dress rehearsal and got a chance to speak with some of the cast about what we can expect from the new production.
David Street – Plays Bernadette and is also the choreographer for the show
Ellie Cornford who as well as performing in the show is a dance captain and costumes (including the kangaroos and one of the Divas)
Claire Poth-Wright who plays one of the Diva’s
Josh Handley who plays Adam/Felicia
Jimmy Allan who plays Bob and is responsible for the digital media for The Players Theatre Company.
David, how did you first get into theatre?
David Street – I am now in my 35th year. I started off in Ballroom dancing, that was my hobby. From there I joined a local theatre company, before moving on to be a dancer for 12 years. I retired from that and moved back in theatre as a director-photographer. I teach for Stagecoach Performing Arts in Southend and Wickford, I work with them on a Saturday teaching kids now which I absolutely love. I have been there for 21 years.
I have been working with Julie [Robertson], which is where I first met Claire and Ellie in 1999 and we did a show called La Cage aux Folles. Myself and Tessa who makes a lot of the costumes and is the company manager, went to Julie and said, “We would like to do this as a project”. She was like “OK” and that is how The Players started. We brought in the ‘Big Band’ sound for that show and it has gone on from there. We were lucky enough to get this show as a premier for this area and we took it.
And you are also choreographing the show Priscilla Queen of the Desert
David Street – I choreographed all of the numbers again with three dance captains. Ellie is one of them and they are worth their weight in gold. Once I choreograph, it is up to them to tidy it up and whatever else needs to be done. There must be about 15-16 numbers in the show, so as well as being choreographed they also need to be dressed, so that has been manic! Also, this show has a lot of new people, so we have auditioned for a lot more dancers to come in which has been lovely. Some of the costumes we couldn’t even get in here because they were so big, so we have to wait until we get in the theatre.
And what sort of problems did you have with the choreography?
Ellie Cornford – Because there are a lot of people, everyone is doing different things at different times and just trying to tidy it up. Being in it you are trying to learn what you are doing and trying to learn what 20 other people are doing at the same time, because they also ask, “What I should be doing?” You do try to make it up as you go along, just go with it because it normally turns out alright in the end.
Jimmy Allan – It’s refining during the last week as well, because we started doing some of the costume work. With the choreography, you find that because some of the costumes are so big we had to make space and adapt the choreography to fit the costumes.
David Street – We’ve got eight girls that are paint brushes, the costumes are hard and wide so in here we just don’t have space, but they will once when they get to the Towngate.
Both the film and the show it’s about the big costumes
David Street – It is, but there is also an underlining story. You’ve got myself who plays the transsexual, so I have had everything taken away if you like. Mark who play’s Tick, he’s got a son. We are not sure how that happened, it must have just happened in a former life. And Josh who plays the very young drag queen who is a bit more modern and up to date. It is basically about how we go on this bus journey to meet Marks son from his former life.
Josh this is your first time playing drag is that correct?
Josh Handley – Yes.
David Street – You would never believe it! You should see him run around in them heels (laughs).
Josh Handley – It is my first show with The Players as well, so it is my first experience with this lot. Big Challenge!
What first attracted you to the role?
The challenge! I have always played the same sort of thing in the past as the funny man, but when I saw they were doing Priscilla I knew it would be a great challenge and something different for me. It has turned out to be a big challenge, but I have loved every minute of it! I have the best team around me.
David Street – Right answer, tick! (laughs). I think with this as a show to be honest, a lot of us have worked and know each other together for many years, but I think when you get new people you have to embrace them in. If you’ve got three individuals and there is no energy, or the divas don’t work together vocally it doesn’t work. So, you have to make sure you all get on and you have fun doing it. If you don’t have fun doing this show, then go out the door. It’s just good fun, and everyone is laughing constantly, even when they are getting told off.
Have you faced any problems so far whilst doing the show?
Claire Poth-Wright – I don’t think there have been any problems for this
Jimmy Allan – The initial thing was relocating from The Palace to The Towngate. Normally our home is The Palace but there were logistical problems with getting the bus on the stage
David Street – That could turn!
Jimmy Allan – There was no way would/could have a bus on the stage
David Street – Or we could have a bus on stage but no cast, so it was an easy decision to make. When Julie was looking at what we go with, bearing in mind the name of the show is Priscilla that’s the name of the bus. So, you can’t go on without the bus, because that’s the end of the show.
One thing we did come up with when we were looking at a chorographical point of view when we were looking at the cast. We had been to numerous productions both Claire and Ellie came with us to a few. When you start going through the logistics of costumes, some of them were saying, for as many of them that were on stage, you had to have as many people backstage doing the costume changes. I was like that is ridiculous! That’s why we got more dancers in and we split the numbers, so they do more or less every other number, unless they are out experienced dancers then they would get more to do. But rather than everybody having to change or having another 12-backstage we had enough to go on and do costume changes as they need to.
You mention watching the other stage productions and the film as well how is yours different?
David Street – Ours has got a lot more colour its fair to say compared to what we have seen recently. We will leave it as that. Like I said earlier, in the production that we saw there was no chemistry between the three leads.
Ellie Cornford – Happiness as well, this show brings a lot of joy.
David Street – The music in this show is just infectious, it’s 70’s, 80’s music, I think if you don’t get the audience in the first couple of numbers you’ve lost them. This show makes the audience go out with such a smile on their face, as it does us in a Sunday night. There were no challenges apart from what Jimmy said, the bus side of it, but luckily, we had another theatre locally we could go to. The Last time The Players were in the Towngate was when we did Beauty and the Beast however many years ago that was.
Claire Poth-Wright – It was around 2010
David Street – There you go eight years ago. We are lucky to have the choice if you like, but some companies in this area probably wouldn’t venture into Basildon because they would go, ‘This is our home’. Where we’re a bit nomadic really, well go anywhere, door to door were not fussed (laughs).
Jimmy Allan – When you have a show like Priscilla it doesn’t matter a great deal because it has such a great following. We found that from the publicity side of it.
Claire Poth-Wright – It is the show that we are selling not the company
Jimmy Allan – It’s got such a following as soon as people see what it is they say, “I want to go and see that”, that’s the feedback we get on social media.
David Street – And ticket sales show that with how well it has been selling. I think with Julie and The players, were not frightened to try and do things. For example, the last show we did was Curtains at the Palace. Nobody really heard of the show, especially in this country predominantly and it went down really well. We are not shy to try things, but also go back to the classics which we are doing with the next two shows. You have to give your public what they want, what they really, really want. (laughs).
Claire Poth-Wright – We have done a few regional premiers including Beauty and the Beast
David Street – Over the years we have. Julie will see something come up and will really dig into other areas, other sites and see what’s available, then go, shall we? Then we will worry about casting afterwards. But one thing we also did with this as a production, everyone was auditioned apart from myself and Mark, I have worked with Mark before. Julie asked if I would be interested to go back on stage and I went “Ok I think I will have a bit of this” and I am loving it! Everyone else auditioned for their particular part and I think it was all done fairly.
For anyone who hasn’t seen the show before what they can expect from Priscilla Queen of the Desert?
Claire Poth-Wright – A good time! A party!
David Street – It is a party on stage! It’s the colour! People will go out singing the tunes, tapping their feet with smiles on their faces. There is one bit where you go “Oh my God!” because If it’s done well, you don’t expect it and it is done really well.
Jimmy Allan – You get the hairs stand up on the back of your neck just from rehearsals just from the singing which is brilliant! We are using backing tracks in here, but we are starting to get the live music and MD’s coming along to familiarise themselves with the score. But because I am not in those I can listen to all the big numbers and you just get that feeling, that tingle on the back of your neck from the volume of the production.
David Street – I think it’s also now we are starting to get all of the costumes you start to see, it is like when you are making a cake. We come in rehearsal gear and choreographing stuff it doesn’t look right so we are making changes, then all of a sudden you see it with the costumes and you are like, it really does work. Its colour and that’s what people can come and expect. People may come in with issues; Brexit on their minds, Trump or whatever, but they certainly won’t go out thinking of that believe me, they will leave that at the door. Whatever that is (Laughs).
And what do we have next following on from Priscilla Queen of the Desert?
Jimmy Allan – (Sings) Oklahoma!
David Street – Oklahoma October?
Jimmy Allan – October the 26th
Claire Poth-Wright – Back at the Palace Theatre and then My Fair Lady next May
Jimmy Allan – We are straight into it
David Street – We finish on Saturday night for Priscilla and then we have auditions on the Sunday for Oklahoma, because they only have 13 weeks to do Oklahoma. It is challenging!
You like to put pressure on yourselves then
As a company, again from years ago when we were at The New Empire we used to do 8, 10, 12 shows a year so they are used to doing them back to back. Where most companies can only do two shows a year, when we had the theatre we would do 10-12 shows a year, plus carnivals and whatever else came up. They are used to doing it that way.
For anyone looking to get into theatre, what advice would you give them?
Voice from behind – Be afraid of wearing dresses!
David Street – I think they just have to come with an open mind. If you wanted to join the players, we don’t hold auditions as such, although a lot of companies do because that’s what their constitution says they should do. We get people to come along, join in, see what we are all about and go from there. If they want to join or come back the following week that’s fine. Otherwise, there are other places for them to go if they want something a bit more regimented than we are. That for me is how we roll.
Claire Poth-Wright – Just come along and see
David Street – A lot of companies you can’t do that first. You have to go along and audition, then you get invited to join. But we are not like that, you come along to see what we are about. We have had people come and stay from doing it that way, others say it’s not for me they will move onto other things.
Jimmy Allan – People do stay on though, they come for their first show but there are not many who only turn up just for the one show.
David Street – Because you can’t bleeding get rid of them (laughs).
Claire Poth-Wright – I think sometimes when you have a big show you take on a lot of extra people, you know you are not going to get them all coming back, which is fine. It works for us and works for them. But if they want to come back in 10 years’ time and do another show then great. Especially when you know what that person is going to be like and they know how we work. It doesn’t matter if you want to do every show, lighting or backstage.
David Street – We have a lot of members who are from the older age group as well. They may have not have necessarily done this show because they want to perhaps have a show off and then come back for Oklahoma, which is more around their ilk of what they want to do. It does work to its advantage to certain people, although some do one show after the other like Claire. That’s just how it works because she is good at what she does and she’s right for a role in every show.
Claire Poth-Wright – We dabble in plays as well which is nice, because some people want to be part of the company but don’t necessarily lend themselves to singing and dancing. It gives us a bit of a change as well and gives other people a bit of a breather.
David Street – When I think of us or it as a company, I think Julie set it up in 98 they did Boyfriend which was a very small production. Some of the members that were in that are still with us today. Then myself and Tessa came along in 99 and said we want to do La Cage and it went from there. Then everybody has just jumped in from that, we have never gone ‘If you want to join come’. We are a pretty young company, not neceserally in age, but pretty young as we have only been going 19,20 max, which is still fairly new. You have other companies out there that are 100-150 years. But we never turn people away. We have had people come in with disabilities, but we never turn them away because they don’t have to audition. If you want to get in there, you can move, you can sing a bit whatever and you can smile! That sells it with me, you’re in, simple as.
Claire Poth-Wright – We don’t turn down a challenge either, whether it is someone coming to be in the show or something we will always take it up and give it a go. It helps that we are not a company with a constitution or a committee, we just have one person who is our leader.
David Street – She thinks she is our leader (Laughs)
The Players Theatre Company will be performing Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Towngate Theatre in Basildon from 27th – 30th June.
You can purchase tickets for the show directly from the Towngate Theatre using the following link:
You can find out more about the player and future production by visiting the website: