After 58 star-studded years as Australia’s foremost character comedian, Barry Humphries, now 79, is bidding his ‘possums’ farewell, hanging up the lilac wig and cat-eye glasses – as well as the outlandish costumes of his other characters – with this glittering extravaganza. Humphries shows no sign whatsoever of age as he dons different personas within the space of a scene change. His stage presence remains as commanding as ever and he has no trouble in squeezing plenty chuckling from his audience. However, whilst his performance had few faults, some of his material has perhaps yellowed over time.
The majority of the first half comprises a humorously unhygienic cookery show from the embodiment of political incorrectness that is the nose-picking, crotch-scratching, spit-slinging Sir Les Patterson. Some devoted fans foolishly chose front row seats and despaired when they were soaked by Sir Les’ soaring saliva. The comic material from Sir Les Patterson is as vulgar as ever – e.g. a bulging prosthetic penis that’s frequently rubbed against his glamorous assistants, regular racial slurs (i.e. calling his Chinese assistant a ‘slant’ and a ‘slopey’), farting profusely, etc. It seems as though his ‘blue’ side had slightly dated comedic connotations, but then it’s forgivable since the character is meant to be that crude. That’s the beauty of being a character comedian – one can hate the character but not the comedian, since that’s what the comedian wanted in the first place.
A brief visit is made by Les’ brother, Gerard Patterson (a new character), a predatory, paedophilic priest whose jokes mainly consist of euphemisms towards the young male assistant of his. The audience are then slightly baffled by a sketch from Sandy Stone, a rather obscure Humphries character from the late 50s (I think). With Sandy Stone, Humphries delivers an Alan Bennett-esque soliloquy from an elderly deceased man that’s meant to showcase Humphries emotional side but unfortunately, the monologue is so ill-fitting with the rest of the show that it loses its poignancy leaving the audience desperately looking for laughs. Bad move there, Barry.
He redeems himself though – and massively so – with his monstrously funny creation who needs no introduction. Arriving in sequined ballgown on a huge glittering elephant, Dame Edna Everage (whoops, there’s her introduction) is a character that we’re all going to miss dearly. Her familiar audacity and ferocity is all the more endearing and she’s especially vicious when she targets audience members. The portrayal of Dame Edna does not even feel like one; she seems to be her own person. Humphries’ virtuosic ability to transform into her is totally unfathomable which proves that she is completely timeless and will survive as one of comedy’s most iconic creations.
So, a flawless farewell this isn’t. But a fond one, it is. Humphries returns onstage at the finale in tuxedo and trilby and gives his final bow in classic showbiz style, confirming his identity as ultimately, a hugely talented showman. A standing ovation is compulsory.