Review: Barry Humphries, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh



Barry Humphries

Seen at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh;

at King’s Theatre, Glasgow, February 11-15


Reviewed by Mark Brown


Sir Les Patterson, the comic monster who Barry Humphries installed as Australia’s “cultural attaché”, has reinvented himself as a celebrity chef. In the first half of Humphries’s farewell tour, Sir Les cooks up a typically flatulent storm in a wonderfully cartoonish Australian backyard.

Sir Les is as offensive and hilarious as ever as he showers his audience with single-entendres (and the front row with saliva). The prosthetic genitalia, and some of the gags, have been around for many a decade, but this matters not a jot as Humphries, whether playing Sir Les or his sex offender priest brother Father Gerard (a recent creation), exerts an irresistible command over the auditorium.Barry Humphries

It’s a command which is especially impressive when the comedian appears as the ghost of Sandy Stone. There is tremendous skill and bravery in the shift of pace required by this old codger who ruminates quietly, and with real pathos, on loss and love.

There was a disquieting moment during the Sandy skit on Tuesday night. The old bloke, as old Australian blokes sometimes do, made a politically incorrect observation, specifically about Polish migration, only for a minority of the audience to fill Sandy’s customary pause with dubiously appreciative applause. Now, Humphries may dress to the right politically – as readers of his occasional and witty writings for The Spectator will know, he’s an admirer of the late Lady Thatcher – but I’m doubtful that he intended to provoke a xenophobic ovation.

The show’s second half is, as one would hope and expect, all about Dame Edna. Arriving fresh from an “exclusive ashram” in India, she inevitably descends into cruel interactions with the audience.

One woman is seemingly complimented on being dressed for a special occasion, only for Edna to hazard a guess that the occasion might be washing a car, among other quotidian pursuits. Nor does the Dame spare those who are out of her immediate gaze. The people in the gods are, variously, her “little plebies” or her “misies” (short for Les Miserables).

The entire, two-hour-and-twenty-minute show is carried off with a delightful sure-footedness which is the hallmark of a truly great stage comedian. As Edna disappears in a flurry of gladioli, the great man takes a bow as arguably the finest of his creations, a debonair gent, looking good on his 79 years, wearing a velvet jacket, tipping his fedora to his adoring public. We know him as Barry Humphries.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on November 10, 2013

© Mark Brown


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