Edna: The Spectacle at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket
Dame Edna Everage has not graced the London stage in nearly 10 years. Her creator, Barry Humphries, puts things to rights with the arrival of Edna: The Spectacle, an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza which blends memoir with good old-fashioned audience baiting.
The first half of the show sees the purple-thatched Queen of the colonies looking back through the family's history - from her grandmother's deportation to Canada (the ship got lost and reached Oz by mistake) for stealing a bunch of gladioli to her very own victory in the Australian Young Mothers competition which sets her on the road to fame.
The use of young actresses, each perfectly mauve in the hair department, gives Humphries the opportunity to try out some of his other costumes. Edna pops her head out from time to time to let us know who's show it is, but Humphries lets the revolting Sir Les Patterson loose with a little conducting and a lot of salivating. The first three rows cop most of the spray from Les foul mouth. Later on, Humphries does a fine 1950s Rupert Murdoch who declares he is as likely to have a naked woman on the pages of his newspaper as he is to have the Prime Minister kissing his arse.
These cameos aside, the first half of the show is a disappointment. Part of the TV appeal of Edna was the fact that her husband Norm was never seen and her bridesmaid Madge Allsop had only ever been 80 years old with a face like a “half-sucked mango”. To see them as young flesh and blood is, somehow, too much detail.
Just before the interval, a young Dame Edna sets sail for England, full of hope and in search of stardom. After the break, the old lady we know and love swans down a sweeping staircase and launches her razor wit on the audience. The next hour of banter with her chosen victims shows Edna at her very best.
Those in the cheap seats are dismissed as a “Niagara of nonentities” as they seem ready to teeter over into the stalls, and several parents in the stalls are quizzed about their babysitting arrangements. The master stroke here is to telephone one grandmother, live from the stage, to check on the kiddies. On the night, this worked well as Gran was game, but it could have fallen flat.
For Dame fans, the first half of this show is an endurance you have to bear to get to what you really paid to see. Non-devotees, however, may be left wondering why this simple “Megastar from Down Under” has such a following.