Roll up, roll up for Barry Humphries' farewell tour with its all singing all dancing star performer, four buff assistants-cum-dancers, an elephant of sorts, a grand pianist, special FX, lightning costume changes, stunt doubles and a plethora of bawdy innuendoes and biting satire. At times reassuringly familiar, at others unnervingly new, Humphries is still, at the age of seventy-eight, razor-sharp and dishing up the razzle-dazzle.
With its intimacy and only slightly faded glamour, Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne, was the perfect venue for this painful parting and was filled to the gunnels with patrons eager to say good-bye to Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson, Sandy Stone and whoever else might pop in for the occasion. The front rows were packed with the most ardent fans, a sprinkling of stars and the superannuated.
To the music of Cole Porter, we were admiring the Moonee Ponds-esque stagescape with its neat rooftops and TV aerials when Sir Les Patterson burst on to the scene. A complex drama unfolded, involving garden furniture, a dunny, a grand piano and topiary, with the irrepressible Sir Les in fine form, ably assisted by remarkable Ken and Barbie-like dancing assistants and a demure but eager couple from the audience. Spitting satire and racist slurs and smearing the names of Julia Gillard and Julian Assange, Sir Les ran amok as usual with no sign of fatigue, although the demands of executing tricky culinary feats as he delivered his lines slowed him down a fraction, demanding he, as it were, patted his head and rubbed his tummy at the same time.
Ever the chameleon, Humphries surprised us with a newly minted character. I won't let the cat out of the bag, except to say this persona is less finely developed than his others but shows a promising blend of depravity, hypocrisy and menace. Although he does get killed off in this show, hopefully he will be resurrected and fleshed out in the future, in spite of Humphries' assertion that Eat Pray Laugh! is his final tour.
In a complete change of mood, Sandy Stone shuffled on to the stage by the light of a moon to bring the first act to a conclusion. It was a poignant portrait of a widowed man mourning the loss of his wife Beryl and a familiar but heartfelt rant against the inadequacies of our aged care facilities. Humphries' timing, perfected in his comedic roles to get the most laughs, was apparent here too, in its dramatic underlining of pathos. The earlier cackles that rippled through the audience were silenced, and the theatre was held spellbound.
After the interval, we were treated to a filmed pastiche of Humphries' career, before Dame Edna made her magnificent appearance in bling-bling and blue, to get cosy with the audience and conduct her cross-examination of some of its hapless members. Following a loose theme of the spiritual journey that ostensibly gave rise to her Eat Pray Laugh! tour, she embarked on a lengthy improvisation – or chat, as she would have it – with the audience. Although not as scintillating or satirical as the previous act and prolonged way beyond the advertised time, this was a chance to linger a moment longer with our beloved dame, and neither she nor we were in a hurry to say goodbye.
There was no shortage of 'senior cits' dressed in trakky dacks or woolly jumpers to harangue in the front four rows. After their characters were duly assassinated, four of them were persuaded to join their friend Edna onstage and outdo the dame in her pantomime antics. Good fun was had by all. As in all Humphries' work, there was a strange ambiguity here. In his prime at seventy-eight, the star is mocking the shortcomings of senior cits even as he entertains them, his devoted fans, and gives them their fifteen minutes of fame. No wonder Emily Perry, who played his offsider Madge Allsop, was the only actor to survive onstage in his one-man shows. But then, she was silent.
Before we knew it, the senior cits were back in their seats, the show was drawing to a close and Edna was in fine gladi-throwing fettle. She was teasing us about meeting again at her next farewell tour, but in the air there was the sense of an ending, that this was it. We trembled our gladis wistfully, a tear in the eye, in honour of fifty-six years of Humphries' punishing comedy routines.
In his final marvellous metamorphosis, Humphries reappeared as himself, dressed impeccably as he would expect his audience to dress for a first night, to thank us for our years' of support. Intriguing to think that Perry began her role as Madge at the age of eighty and only threw in the towel at the age of ninety-six. Perhaps Humphries is contemplating a comeback in a few years, in a less demanding capacity. As a mime? That'd be a turn-up for the books, as Tommy Cooper, Humphries' favourite comedian, would say.
Eat Pray Laugh!
Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre, 219 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Dates: Thursday 19 July - Saturday 4 August, 2012
Times: Wed, Thurs, Fri & Sat 8pm; Sat, Wed 1pm; Sun 3pm
Duration: 2hrs 40 mins to 3 hours
Tickets: $59 –199
Bookings: www.ticketek.com.au | 132 849