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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
EAT, PRAY, LAUGH!
at the London Palladium

HUMPHRIES' FAREWELL
By CLIVE HIRSCHHORN

  Barry Humphries/ Ph: Alastair Muir

Because time plays disconcerting tricks on the memory, I cannot remember, precisely, what year it was when the great Barry Humphries gave a midnight matinee at Drury Lane. What I will never forget, though, is Barry, a la his greatest creation, Dame Edna Everage, inviting about 20 people onto the Lane’s hallowed stage where, as part of the show, and with dazzling aplomb, he organised a full-on barbecue.

As the formidable housewife-superstar barbied her hamburgers, she continued her act with all the panache we’d come to expect of her, interacting all the while with her on-stage guests and the rest of the sold-out house. It was a feat of extraordinary boldness and daring, which she pulled off with jaw-dropping confidence. Nobody who was there that night will ever forget it.

In his farewell show, Eat, Pray, Laugh! Humphries, who’s hitting 80, returns to the barbecue theme, but this time it is Les Patterson who’s in control. No longer Australia’s uncouth, politically incorrect Minister of Culture, complete with his ill-fitting, rumpled, multi-stained suit and food-soiled tie, he’s morphed into a potty-mouthed celebrity chef in a floral shirt and shorts. The stains may be gone but the saliva-spewing mouth remains in rude working order. In addition he’s suffering from gastroenteritis, which cues in a series of lavatorial (literally) skirmishes that the squeamish may find too gross for comfort.

This time, with some assistance from a couple of hapless audience members, gourmet rissoles are being barbecued on stage.

While I think I preferred Les when he was still in office (the satire was more pointed), he’s still outrageously funny on the home front and had a willing audience eating out of his unsanitary hands.

Unfortunately he takes a toilet break about 45 minutes into the show, and after a deft costume change is replaced by his brother Gerard, a paedophile priest wearing a parole tag around one ankle. Gerard, it has to be said, is a bit of a bore and, fortunately, is quickly dispatched in favour of the unworldly suburbanite Sandy Stone, now deceased.

The first half ends on a serious note, which owes more to Alan Bennett than Humphries as a reincarnated Sandy reminisces about life in general and, in particular, the tragic death of his four year-old daughter.

The sketch is an uneasy mixture of levity and seriousness, with a highly unconvincing reference to Stephen Sondheim thrown in.

Happily, the second half is devoted entirely to Dame Edna, who, despite being a tad less sharp than she once was and with some of her impeccable timing fraying at the edges, still maintains a caustic, insultingly personal line in verbal (and facial) abuse.

She offers very little we have not seen before and follows the old adage that the jokes one laughs loudest at are the ones you’ve heard before. The only thing new about the act is the revelation that Dame Edna is hanging up her diamante frocks and abandoning the glitz of show biz for a more serene life on an ashram.

If, unlike her fellow countrywoman Dame Nellie Melba, who made a career giving “farewell” performances, she’s telling the truth, I wish her well in her new vocation.

Eat, Pray, Laugh! climaxes with the traditional gladioli waving and with an untraditional and moving coda as the real Barry Humphries, dressed in an immaculate black suit and niftily angled hat, steps forward to bid his faithful audience a fond adieu. At his advanced age he’s the 8th, 9th and 10th wonder of the entertainment world.

To paraphrase another great comedian, thanks for the memories.

 


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