WhatsOnStage Logo

Eat Pray Laugh!

Barry Humphries, whose alter egos include iconic Australian housewife Dame Edna Everage and the inebriated cultural attaché Sir Les Patterson, takes his final bow at the London Palladium

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
WhatsOnStage logo
There ain't nothing like a Dame: Barry Humphries as Dame Edna at the Palladium

At the end of his orgiastic three-hour farewell show, Barry Humphries, himself at last in black velvet jacket and tilted titfer, says that his career has been a way of postponing the responsibilities of adult life. In February, he will be 80 years old (amazing, but true). So, for postponement we'd better now read cancellation. And he makes us promise we'll return to see him in his next farewell performance.

I think I've laughed louder and longer in his company – and Dame Edna Everage's – than with anyone bar Ken Dodd, so I for one can certainly forgive, and indeed cherish, his juvenile excesses, vulgarity and extreme bad taste.

His second act as Dame Edna is a carnival of crassness, entering on an elephant after a filmed resume of a life in the spotlight from Melbourne housewife to a career in Bollywood movies and celebrity megastar status complete with "upskirt" pap shots on leaving a limo for another glittering gala.

And, as usual, Dame Edna hauls a chap out of the audience and rings up his wife at home – always in the suburbs, luckily; on opening night in Petts Wood, Kent – to check on her taste in furnishings and wallpaper (not good). Very soon, the house is inundated with gladioli and we're all singing and waving at them like the inmates in the high security mental home he's just been telling us about.

The first half is kicked off by the glorious, dishevelled and drunken sight of the Right Hon Sir Les Patterson, newly re-launched as Australia's answer to Nigella Lawson, making rissoles on his cuisine show, "Les Get Cooking," accompanied by four unlikely but extremely fit-looking young dancers, and interrupted while he's sitting on the dunny in a garden shed by his own brother – a brand new, viciously timed creepy clergyman called Gerard who looks a bit like Richard Wilson and is tagged with a light-up ankle bracelet on account of his paedophiliac past.

Humphries' own favourite character was always Sandy Stone, the grass widower of Gallipoli Street, who's now a whispering revenant from beyond the grave, recalling his wife Beryl's last days in a home for the seriously bewildered where they put on a Stephen Sondheim concert, accompanying themselves on pots, pans and wooden spoons.

Very few comics are genuinely funny while speaking the unsayable, the sexist, the gross, the xenophobic, bigoted and most profane, but Humphries, like Lenny Bruce or Bill Hicks were in America, is insulated against attack by the verve and brilliance of his literary style, the sheer satirical cleverness of what he does.

If you've never seen him, you simply have to go now to the Palladium, or catch him on the nationwide tour which resumes in the New Year. He's a comedy genius, still, and Dame Edna and Sir Les two of the greatest comic inventions of our time; we have been spoilt and delighted for decades in his, and their, company.