Eat Pray Laugh!
Barry Humphries' Farewell Tour
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Just one month short of his 80th birthday, Barry Humphries spent five nights entertaining packed houses at Newcastle's Theatre Royal. We went to see him on the penultimate night of the Newcastle run and even now, a couple of days later, we are still laughing at the memory.
Barry Humphries seems sincere in his desire to bid farewell to the world of touring. Ticket sales were predictably healthy; I couldn't spot any empty seats in the theatre and the pre-show atmosphere crackled with anticipation of a special evening.
The unmistakable sound of Men at Work's Down Under heralded the arrival of Sir Les Patterson, billed here as ''Australia's answer to Nigella Lawson.'' Indeed, Sir Les has reinvented himself as a TV chef, determined (he said) to put on a good show to impress representatives of major TV stations who were (apparently) dotted around the stalls.
Ah, yes - the stalls. Normally I like to book tickets as close to the stage as possible but after just a couple of minutes I understood the wisdom of choosing the Grand Circle. Sir Les has what could be described as overactive saliva glands (and then some). From our privileged vantage point it was clear that nobody in the first four or five rows of the stalls was safe from being drenched by projectile spittle. Nor were the meatballs that Sir Les proceeded to create and barbecue...and which, later on, two poor members of the audience were ''invited'' to come and eat (I'll keep you guessing as to whether or not they were ultimately obliged to do so).
Bad taste abounded - obviously in more ways than one - as Les imparted his eternal wisdom, sharing his opinion of a whole range of subjects as he dribbled, cooked and produced enormous amounts of wind (or ''trouser coughs'' as he so delightfully put it). ''If you were expecting a politically correct show, you may as well **** off home right now'' he said. Hardly a country or race was safe from the acerbic tongue of Sir Les. I'm not sure how he gets away with it, but I suppose the authorities are all too busy arresting octogenarians for different reasons at the moment.
Unbelievably, the humour worked. There was only one way to laugh at such innuendo-laden material: long and hard. I've never known a show produce so many belly laughs per minute. In the hands and flatulence of most other performers, such material simply wouldn't work. We were witnessing a master at work.
Just when the level of grotesqueness didn't seem able to be raised, Sir Les disappeared for a noisy toilet trip and his creepy brother Gerard (a tagged man of the cloth) appeared and promptly raised the bar a couple more notches.
There was a sudden change of pace and tone towards the end of the first half, with the deceased Sandy Stone delivering a monologue from the other side. The humour became a lot more on the subtle side and there were a few genuinely touching moments in the narrative.
The second half of the show belonged solely to Dame Edna Everage. Arriving on an elephant, all trace of subtlety was immediately trumpeted away, never to return. If we thought we were well off avoiding the stalls for the first half, Dame Edna confirmed it - well and truly - in the second. Nobody down there was safe. Dame Edna started to pick on people as only she can (although she claimed she was ''empowering'' them). The set culminated in two unconnected members of the audience being brought onto the stage to take place in a bizarre wedding ceremony. From a safe distance, it was hilarious.
There followed the traditional custom of throwing gladioli out the audience (Dame Edna managed to hurl some all the way the Grand Circle) prior to a gladi-waving finale.
Barry Humphries came out as himself at the very end of the show to thank everyone. He seemed humble and genuinely appreciative, in stark contrast to the characters he plays.
Wonderful entertainment, but easily offended or nervous people beware!
Keep up to date with the tour dates over at the official Eat Pray Laugh! website.