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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the London Palladium


  Barry Humphries/ Ph: Alastair Muir

Few comedians with such an explicit line in toilet humour attract such high-class audiences. While Australia's cultural attaché Les Patterson demonstrates his relaxed attitude to personal hygiene during a lesson in Aussie al fresco cooking, on this night some extremely well-to-do ladies in the audience were practically wriggling with pleasure at the kind of manners that wouldn't be allowed within 500 yards of their dining tables.

The effect of last night's curry is of no consequence, assures Les. “Since when did chronic diarrhea interfere with gourmet cooking?”

Later on in Barry Humphries' farewell show, Dame Edna establishes that the well-to-do women, whose husbands look as if they were born in a boardroom, live in Chelsea. This was good news to the self-styled “megastar” for Dame Edna who has always liked to compliment the posh at the expense of the “paupers” in the upper circle. Although in the end it's always the rich who end up shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

Yes, that's right. This is Humphries' final tour, at the end of which the 79-year-old master comic and satirist will remove Edna' s (often mauve) wig and take out Les' (always yellow) teeth for the last time. But in the meantime there it is business as usual.

Director Simon Phillips deploys a quartet of dancers to prevent the show from becoming too static. Although, at 79, Humphries moves surprisingly quickly across the Palladium's huge stage. The dancers also serve as magician-style assistants to Les while he cooks, ferrying ingredients for the chef to mash with his hands while admitting he forgot to wash them before leaving the garden outhouse at the back of the stage. 

In the first half of the show there are cameos too for less well known characters such as Les' paedophile brother, a vicar with a penchant for school visits, and Sandy Stone, an elderly ghost. The dusty spectre reminisces about a wife who lives in the Sleepy Hollow rest home for the nearly dead, and their dear, lost daughter who died at the age four. A ghostly tricycle glides across the stage in possibly the show's only example of unintended bad taste. What saves us from mawkish self-indulgence here is the quality of Humphries' writing. He has an eye for detail about ageing and loneliness that is every bit as sardonic and forensic as Alan Bennett's. And often the prose is as beautiful.

But it's the second half of the show that blossoms into the two-legged festival of glittering grotesquery that is Dame Edna. Combining the caring and killer instincts of a matriarch and a shark, Edna likes to make friends with her fans before eviscerating them. The Buddhist lady from Manchester who tempted the "megastar" into a chant was eventually silenced when it emerged she was getting divorced and Edna expressed her sorrow – for the husband.

The ladies from Chelsea got off relatively lightly. To be sure it is the rudeness that they enjoy. But the one thing Edna and Les have in common is Humphries' cleverness, which ultimately makes vulgarity the target of their humour. The stage will be dimmer, in both senses of the word, without him. It's spin on comedy that climaxes with Edna's traditional ritual – the throwing of the gladioli. Dowagers grasp the air in an effort to catch theirs.

After three quick hours, one more character takes to the stage. Rarely seen under the same roof as the others, it is Humphries himself, now suavely dressed and looking not completely unlike Count Dracula. He looks forward to seeing us at his next farewell show, he says. But the invitation feels more like a dig at comedians who give their fond farewells followed by more comebacks than George Foreman. Dame Edna and even Les have far too much taste to do that.


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