Eat Pray Laugh! is billed as Barry Humphries' Farewell Tour and, though the apparently ageless 80-year-old performs with undiminished energy and invention and insists the audience come to see his next farewell tour, the show does seem to have been constructed on that premise. Dame Edna Everage's appearance is preceded by a clever and amusing film retrospective which tells of the scandals of her triumphant career and a final montage covers all Humphries' alternative identities of the last 60 years before he appears as himself for a witty valediction.
The opening Sir Les Patterson section is played out against a neat suburban garden set (by Brian Thomson), complete with tool-shed, dunny and foliage-covered grand piano for Nick Len, Humphreys' alert and self-effacing accompanist. Sir Les has retired from politics to become a celebrity chef and the preparation of his rissoles, increasingly disgusting and germ-ridden, leads to a final product which unfortunate audience "volunteers" are taken to the brink of eating.
Politician or chef, Sir Les is unchanged, all bodily functions on parade in revolt against the very idea of political correctness, leering, chortling, breaking wind, singing triumphantly of the joys of cuisine in the company of a bright young foursome, later to surface equally successfully in more exotic mode for Dame Edna.
A new character for this tour (which began two years ago in Australia) is Sir Les' brother Gerard, a Catholic priest with paedophile tendencies. His brief comic appearance (with Humphreys performing miracles of quick change) leads to Sandy Stone's sad little monologue from beyond the grave lamenting human loss.
Calm is thus restored for the appearance of Dame Edna after the interval. Entering a simpler, but more glittering, staging, apparently on an elephant and accompanied by oriental dancers, "she" holds the stage for some 80 minutes, with the major portion of the act the quick-witted torment of audience members who all seemed to enjoy it, though I was glad to be as far back as Row J. Now and again "she" delivers a song with droll panache.
Barry Humphreys is a remarkable entertainer, with incredible control of the audience and an almost unique ability to offend and charm simultaneously, and as a character Dame Edna is a force of nature, but there's more to the success of the show than that. Simon Phillips' direction integrates Humphreys' inspired improvisations into a slickly effective production. And the huge list of Production Credits shows how much care has been taken in fusing verbal invention, rude gags, vivid characterisation, insulting the public and throwing brickbats at pretension into a memorable evening!
Barry Humphries' Farewell Tour – Eat, Pray, Laugh! Continues at the Grand Theatre Leeds until 1 March 2014.