"A year of being a drag queen will take its toll, I think," ponders Oliver Thornton. The Welsh actor has spent eight years treading the boards in some of London's most high-profile musicals (Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Starlight Express), but nothing will have quite prepared him for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
A musical adaptation of Stephan Elliott's cult 1994 film, the play follows two Australian drag queens and a transsexual as they cross the Outback on a ramshackle bus (the eponymous Priscilla). Already a success in Sydney, much is expected of the musical in London's West End, thanks to a star turn by Jason Donovan as drag queen Tick ("He's so perfect for the role", says Thornton) and disco hits from the 1970s, including "Hot Stuff", "Boogie Wonderland" and "I Will Survive".
While Donovan takes the lead, Thornton, 29, has perhaps the biggest shoes to fill as Adam, the flamboyant drag queen who took Guy Pearce from Neighbours to Hollywood. "It was such an iconic role for Guy," he says. "I think I'm trying to hang on to the bits that everyone loved about the film, and then bring myself to it as well."
The previews have been fantastic. "It was like nothing I've experienced before. The audience dressed up in outrageous wigs and costumes." Not as outlandish as the costumes on stage, though. "When I first saw myself in drag, I was horrified. I just looked like a man in a wig! But you get new-found respect for people who do drag as a living. They have to battle a lot of stigma. It's liberating playing someone who's made a choice and is living by it."
'Priscilla', Palace Theatre, London W1 (0844 755 0016, www.palace-theatre.co.uk)Reuse content