“You’ve aged…but I’ve stayed the same”
Ours was never a household that watched “variety’s gigastar” Dame Edna Everage and to be honest, her schtick always seemed a little old-hat even as a young’un. Still, one has to appreciate the towering achievement of over 50 years in the business and so when a kind invitation to the opening night of Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour came my way, a trip to the London Palladium was in order. And to further ram home how out of sync I am with this performer, I found myself amazed at the size of the star-studded gala put on and the near-full critical complement that had turned out to see Eat Pray Laugh!
Additionally, I don’t watch much live comedy at all. It’s always a bit too hit and miss for my liking – there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re the only person not laughing – and being deaf, the acoustic challenges are often too much to surmount – actually, there’s nothing worse than a hall full of people pissing themselves at a joke you didn’t hear clearly. But along with the range of celebrities that turned up this Friday night, who am I to turn up my nose to a free ticket and so I shuffled past Elaine Paige and Maureen Lipman having a gossip, Richard E Grant taking sneaky pics of the set and Vivienne Westwood looking flawless to take my seat in the stalls.
And it was a difficult beginning. The first half sees Humphries play some of his other characters, most notably unreconstructed Aussie Sir Les Patterson, and I found it painful. Whether through residual affection for the performer, the determination to have a good Friday night out or some kind of meta-textual cultural commentary that went over my head, he seemed to go down a storm but the way in which this character gained laughs calls back to a best-forgotten era. Toilet humour may just not be to my taste but I can’t see how anyone could justifiably laugh at calling Asian people ‘slants’. Les’ gay Catholic priest brother makes a thankfully brief appearance too.
A winding monologue from a ghostly character called Sandy Stone changes the tone entirely to the end the first act but the interval is spent donning sparkly specs and frocks as Dame Edna finally arrives atop an elephant, revealing the spiritual awakening at an ashram that has provoked her retirement. And from the first wisecrack about the paupers in the balcony and the dress sense of those in the front rows, she proves impossible to resist. Bantering with the audience reveals a genuine sharpness in off-the-cuff comebacks, better than the set-pieces which includes a weirdly negative view of Stoke Newington, and the union of two unlikely audience members was eye-wateringly cringingly brilliant.
A finale involving trembling gladioli for the entire audience (what must the flower bill be like!) gets us up on our feet and then there’s a gorgeous moment as Humphries himself finally emerges, bidding us a heartfelt goodbye and though he teases us, one does get the feeling this really is goodbye. I found the nod to his long illustrious career here fascinating and I’d’ve loved to have heard more about it but that would have changed the nature of the show entirely. Still, I’m glad to say I have now seen Dame Edna live (and that I’ll never see Les Patterson again) and that my seat wasn’t too close to the front – between Les’ frothing spittle, flowers falling from the gods and Edna’s rapier-sharp wit, it’s a dangerous place to be!