Sunday, 22 July 2012

Eat Pray Laugh - Farewell Barry Humphries

Image: Her Majesty's Theatre website.

Yesterday afternoon I did something I've never done before.  I went to see Barry Humphries live on stage in his show, Eat Pray Laugh at Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne.  It's the farewell tour and I'm so pleased that I didn't let the opportunity to see a master craftsman performing pass me by.

Before Dame Edna took to the stage after interval we spent some time with Sir Les Patterson and the dead Sandy Stone.  I'd heard of these characters and seen snippets, but didn't know very much about them.  I knew that Sir Les is disgusting and wasn't sure about Sandy Stone. (Click here for photos of Sir Les and Sandy Stone.)

Sir Les is disgusting, but still, somehow, likeable.  He has a generous spirit and a big smile on his face to go with the innuendo laden crudities and racist epithets that fly out of his mouth - along with the spit.

The show started in Sir Les' backyard, somewhere in the unmistakeable Australian suburbia.  Silhouetted against the sky is a row of two storey houses with their television antennae reaching towards heaven.  The yard has a lawn and is surrounded by a hedge. Everything is covered in astroturf.  In the corner, there's a piano, also covered in turf.  There's the obligatory garden shed, complete with painted cricket stumps  and a barbecue set up near the back door to his house and the outside toilet.  We know it's a toilet because Sir Les is having trouble with his guts.  Suddenly the audience is roaring with laughter while they squirm at the bowel sounds he is emitting.  He has already warned us about his "volatile emissions".

His outfit is marvellous: a bright orange, yellow and black, ugly  "Hawaiian" shirt, over orange cargo shorts, black socks pulled half way up his calves and bright yellow Crocs on his feet.  Sir Les is apparently very well endowed and wearing shorts presents a problem as his enormous appendage appears below the hem line of his strides.  It's outrageous and screamingly funny because he's so open hearted!  He refers to the enormous bulge in his pants, telling us not to worry, it's just his stash of cab charge vouchers.

Not only does Sir Les provide satirical comment on current affairs, he speaks frankly of his wife, Gwenny's, charms, variously referring to her nether regions as the "gates of paradise", the "tarantula" and thus himself as the "webmaster".  And then he tells us about his latest venture - he's to be the latest celebrity chef.  He's going to try out a recipe for us - rissoles.  His helpers are The Condiments: four very buff dancers - two men and two women - and they wield their ingredients with aplomb while dancing around the stage showing off their incredible bodies.

As Sir Les plunges his hands into the raw mince to start mixing the rissoles by hand, the trouble with his guts takes hold again and these rissoles become even more revolting to think about than they had been when he was merely spitting all over the place.

I was left wondering why fart jokes and sounds are so funny!

Sandy Stone was the character which surprised me.  I found the image of this old, softly spoken man standing on stage in his dressing gown unbearably poignant.  I will even admit to tears as he remembered and sang, "My Blue Heaven".  The imagery of the set, with an easy chair and lamp which descended from heaven, looking like it was made of clouds, was gorgeously fitting.

What a ride!  To take the audience from guffaws to quiet comtemplation of our mortality illustrates the incredible craft, in writing, performance and direction, which was on display.

I needed the interval to recover before meeting Dame Edna.

She was fresh from a stay in a very posh ashram in India - the Dalai Lama may or may not have been one of her fellow travellers - and resplendent in a sky blue gown, sparkling with diamantes and reminiscent of a sari. We'd been shown a tabloid scandal reel to bring us up to date on the history of Dame Edna and then Dame Edna herself arrived on an elephant. She was up for a chat with the audience, engaging and terrifying the front rows - they could be singled out for her scathing assessments at any moment.  Dame Edna does vitriol like no one else, leaving the audience relieved that someone else is in the firing line.

Showing skills as an improviser, there were some moments where the ordinary responses from the selected audience members were hilarious with no embellishment required.  I'm thinking of Debra (Dame Edna's second favourite spelling, she prefers Deborah) who lives in a mud house in a suburb called "Research" with a cream coloured ceiling and coffee coloured bedspread.  Or poor Isabel who was criticised for her "laser sharp intellect" after she could not explain what an epiphany was.  Isabel was accompanied by an apparently elderly looking man.  Dame Edna asked if this was her husband and there was uproar when Isabel revealed him as her grandfather!  Denise described her home in Leongatha as being "Tuscan".  Quick as a whip, Dame Edna imagined all the people in Florence who are living in houses which could be described as being built in the "Leongatha" style.  Hilarious!

The people singled out for conversation were invited onto the stage, including Isabel's grandfather, who turned out to be blind.  A substitute senior citizen was found and he stood up to reveal himself to be hobbling on a stick!  It took considerable effort for him to climb the stairs, but he made it.  Dame Edna affectionately did the Australian thing and immediately gave him a nickname - he was referred to as "Seeny" henceforth.  (Short for Senior Citizen.)

There was a well-deserved standing ovation for Dame Edna after she had flung stems of gladioli to the audience and ordered us to sing "Wave that glad" with lyrics that went something like: "It's part of the show that's quite traditional, I was taught this song by an old Aboriginal, wave that glad!".

Another short film reel was shown and then Barry Humphries took the stage, with his trademark hat (a Fedora?) at a suave angle.  The audience rose to its feet and I felt a wave of affection and respect for this incredible artist.

As I waited for my friend in the foyer, I observed the audience.  They were considerably older than I am and their eyes were lit with the endorphins pouring through them as the result of almost three hours of laughter.  I spied "Seeny".  People were calling out to him and congratulating him on his "performance".  He beamed, clearly enjoying his new found celebrity.

Don't miss the opportunity to see this show!

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