Portsmouth performer Edwin Ray takes the lead in Priscilla, Queen of The Desert at Mayflower Theatre
When lockdown first hit last March, Edwin Ray was understudy to Joe McFadden for the role of Tick/Mitzi in a nationwide tour of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert.
Based on the 1994 Oscar-winning movie, Priscilla is the hilarious and heart-warming adventure of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus bound for the Outback to put on the show of a lifetime.
The company was in Woking, preparing for that evening’s show when word came that they were shutting down.
Edwin recalls: ‘We thought, three-four weeks off, that's fine, we'll come back and finish the tour.
‘Little did we know how long it was going to be. We still had 10 weeks left of the tour, and then I was due to go on to another show in the West End, which of course got cancelled.’
There is however a happy ending to this for Edwin – when the show resumed this June the Portsmouth-born performer was asked to step up to play Tick full time.
During lockdown Edwin did ‘bits and pieces’ of TV filming, but he says: ‘I've been doing this professionally for 20 years, so this is what I am, this is what I do.
‘I had lots of periods where I had nothing, and that's such a shock for someone who's so busy and active all the time. It was a real shift in my being. It was really making the most of the small opportunities that came through and trying to keep motivated to want to carry on afterwards as well.
‘It knocks you for six when what you do doesn't exist, so I was absolutely thrilled when this came back again and the producers called.
‘It was brilliant – 10 out of 20 of the cast from before came back, others had gone on to other things, or whatever, so we had 10 new people as well.
‘It was a fresh approach to the show and everybody was so grateful to be working again – the energy's amazing, everybody's really happy to be there. It's a good atmosphere.’
The tour resumed in June, playing to socially distanced houses, but now restrictions have been removed, theatres are again at full capacity. When Edwin spoke with The Guide they were in Birmingham.
‘We opened the Hippodrome for the first time in 500-and-whatever days, so it's been a real big thing this week – it's been amazing. To see the theatre in its full glory is quite an amazing thing.’
Of taking on Tick as the lead, Edwin says: ‘Going back into it this time I was able to make it my own. Me and the other two lead actors, we've got a very good relationship on stage and off, so we bounce off of each other, and it's a very fresh approach to it.
‘I think the show has got a new lease of life from the cast changes.’
Edwin’s own relationship with the show goes way back.
‘I loved the film – it's a cult classic. And with the stage show, I first saw it in the West End when it opened and Jason Donovan was playing Tick. I'd seen the show a few times, so it was nice to be able to do our own version of it, and Jason’s now one of the producers with Mark Goucher.
‘They got the rights to do it, but it's their own version, so design-wise it's quite different to the original stage production.
‘The choreography in this show is phenomenal – by Tom Jackson-Greaves, a phenomenal up and coming choreographer who's brought new life to the show. The dancing in it is top notch, the singing is incredible and we're able to tell the story afresh.’
And what have the audience’s reactions been like?
‘Everybody absolutely loves it. They're surprised how they've laughed, and they've also cried. They've gone through so many emotions because it is a fast-paced story, and yes, it's very funny but it also has really hard-hitting moments with homophobia and tough moments to watch in between all this amazing stuff – it's got a real heart to it, and I think people really feel those emotions. It's so nice to bring people joy again.’
The show’s director has also tinkered with the role of Tick/Mitzi to play to Edwin’s strength as a dancer.
‘I trained in musical theatre, and dancing was one of my strongest things when I went into the industry.
‘Then I got cast by Matthew Bourne in his dance company and had a brilliant long relationship with him in which I went on to play some leading roles in Nutcracker and Cinderella and all around the world.
‘Using that background, we've put a lot of dancing into the role of Tick and Mitzi – the numbers I do I really dance like crazy!
‘The director Ian Talbot, he's used people's skills and what they do to revamp it.
‘At 38 I’m moving more towards acting, but keeping the dance element because it's something I do very well, and it's something I love.’
He is also relishing a return to Mayflower’s stage: ‘I've performed there many times.
‘When you go to those big, epic theatres, you feel like you're on some Broadway stage.
‘When the lights are on during the show, it is like a vast black hole out there – but you can feel the audience there and that they’re with you from the reactions.’
PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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