Life can take many unexpected turns, which happened to much-loved Australian comedian Peter Rowsthorn when he was confronted with the enormity of Covid-19 while flying from Melbourne to Perth last year.
“I estimate that when Covid hit, I lost $40,000 in a week,” says Peter who is about to take to the stage at Crown as Bernadette in the adaption of the classic Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert directed by Trevor Patient with Cougar Morrison as Tick (Mitzi) and Nick Mayer as Adam (Felicia).
“I panicked a bit and got my truck driving licence in case I needed to go truck driving. I was pretty lucky, I was working for Channel 7 – and still am – in a show called Flashpoint on Monday nights. That kept on going and they did a news story on Flashpoint about me getting a truck driver’s licence and that became a national news piece.
“From that, I got calls from mining companies really worried about their employees’ mental health so we devised an interview program. People were stuck in their dongas after 12-hour shifts and couldn’t go to the gym or tavern. They were doing these shifts and coming home for 12 hours and not mixing with anyone.
“We devised an interview program with the likes of Glenn Robbins, Magda Szubanski and Dave Hughes, all my comedy friends; Danny Green, sporting people, footy players I knew. Miners and their families would be sent a link so they could watch the same program together. It was also interactive so they could ask questions.
“I hosted it and because I knew the other people involved it was all rather light and funny. Then Kath & Kim was sold to Channel 9 so I got some money from that. Before I knew it was July and because we live in the greatest state on earth and I was starting to work again.
“I was very lucky I got through the worst of it.”
“I haven’t sung on stage for gee, it’s been about 20 years”
Peter went on to appear in the Fringe Festival with daughter Frankie, 18.
“She started doing comedy when she was 16 and said she wanted to try it,” says Peter.
“Instead of driving her to netball, I drive her to comedy festivals; she has done really well in a short space of time and is starting to get work around town.
“We did a show together which was lovely. She did her 10 to 15 minutes and I did the rest and voilà! we had a show which was sold out. Now it’s a few corporate jobs until Priscilla which I’m really looking forward to a lot.”
Priscilla tells the story of two Sydney drag artists, Tick and Adam and transgender woman Bernadette, who are contracted to perform a drag show at a resort in Alice Springs, at the behest of Tick’s ex-wife Marion.
Peter describes Bernadette as: “worldly, she’s seen everything, she plays a bubbly role, she’s a liberal minded person who likes to have fun. The other characters can dance around her, she is the rock of the three of them.
“I try to give her a bit of style and class, a little bit of maturity. I treat her like every other character I have done before, working from the ground up. It’s a fantastic script, very funny and there’s a lot you can do with it.
“For me it’s a huge challenge. I haven’t sung on stage for gee, it’s been about 20 years since I opened up in front of a live audience with singing. I love working with teams of people, working in comedy is fantastic but it is also very lonely. It’s great to work in a team again backstage and on stage.
“Standing here I’m wearing a leotard with bosoms on it but it is quite spanxy (clingy) which is fantastic, you feel so slim all of a sudden,” Peter says with a chuckle.
Platinum Entertainment presents Priscilla Queen of the Desert with a cast of 30 at Crown Theatre from 7 May – 30 May.