WHEREVER did we get the silly idea that Barry Humphries was about to retire?
I suppose it was all that talk about his new touring production, “Eat Pray Laugh!” being a farewell tour.
Readers need to take that no more seriously than any of Dame Nellie Melba’s retirements, as the chameleon performer made clear when he took his curtain call on a gladioli-strewn stage over the weekend in the opening season of his tour.
Humphries may be 78 years old, but this time round, with playwright Joanna Murray-Smith and director Simon Phillips “to keep an eye on things”, he proved as virile, as vulgar and as magnificent as ever he has been in his long career.
There is evidence of considerable research on his scriptwriter’s part, with up-to-date references to Gina Rinehart, Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper and even Black Caviar, and of directorial know-how in locating the entire production in a beautifully manicured but very flexible garden.
All the same, you couldn’t help feeling that Les, his brother Gerard, Sandy, and that media tart extraordinaire, Edna, were doing their own thing for the greater part of the performance.
The Canberra Theatre was packed to the rafters with audiences eager to absorb Les Patterson’s scatological observations on current affairs, delivered with a revolting amount of phlegm and several visits to the dunny.
If you weren’t there, you probably won’t believe me, but Les, his gardener/pianist and his four long-legged dancing attendants, “The Condiments”, embark upon a tribute to “Masterchef”, rissoles and all, that leaves the audience guessing from breath and his onstage guests terrified they might be asked to eat some of Les’s cooking.
None of this is for the fainthearted, but when Les introduces his paedophile brother, Father Gerard, you know for certain that when it comes to politically incorrect humour, this comedian takes no prisoners.
The lovable Sandy Stone speaks to us from the nether world. Small matter that his wig fell off during the performance, Humphries carried on regardless so that it seemed part of the show.
Sandy is a gentle creature, judiciously contrasted in the program with his raucous predecessor, but he also assaults us with the cultural tags so common in Australian society.
So if you’re unused to hearing people being called “Dagos”, “Curry Munchers”, “Chinks”, “Pillow-Biters” or “Yids”, this performance could be injurious to the blood pressure.
We have waited for many years to see Dame Edna Everage come onstage aloft a huge ceremonial elephant, but her recent visit to an ashram in India, which may account for the bling she was wearing, provided the perfect excuse for her to upstage everyone, even the elephant.
Edna, ferocious as ever underneath her etiquette-driven exterior (she purports to have given Julia Gillard elocution lessons) lost no time in turning her attentions on the audience, several members of which she held hostage for almost the entire second half.
You do have to wonder about people who buy tickets in rows A and B when Dame Edna is about.
This is where we really began to wonder if she/he was following the script.
Her alter ego Humphries seems to have to have an uncanny knack for picking out vulnerable people in the audience and linking their interest to her own concerns.
In this case, we discovered, Edna had undergone a spiritual climate change, a kind of internal El Niño that was causing her to channel some of the great figures of history in order to remake herself into a warm, caring person.
Influenced, no doubt by another famous Australian, she was showing us that from now on she would be “the real Edna”.
It’s a terrifying thought.