Fart gags, politically incorrect jokes, on-stage cookery, audience participation a dame and a proscenium arch to boot. How wonderfully Whingerish. What’s not to like?
Well, the production values for starters. It’s possibly deliberate, but at these prices, and at the Palladium, one doesn’t really expect end-of-the-pier dancing and decidedly cheap-looking sets which have the whiff of ‘tour’ about them, but since it is Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour : Eat, Pray Laugh! maybe the clue was in the title. Then there’s Edna’s frock which close up looks as if it’s nearing the end of the run rather than just beginning it.
You don’t need to pay full price. Offers are everywhere and on the night we attended there were very few of Edna’s ‘paupers’ in the upper circle. It looks as if they’d been moved down to more expensive seats which renders some of the dame’s references to the upper reaches of the theatre largely redundant.
But these are small things in the general scheme of things. Everyone is here for the main course of Edna (an hour and a half of her after the interval) and
the Mayor of Toronto Australia’s former ‘cultural attaché’, Sir Les Patterson. He’s a very substantial scattalogical appetiser to kick things off, put your face in rictus grin mode, marvel at the quantities of expectorate he produces (and generously shares with the first 5 rows of the stalls) and gasp at some of his gags. One rambling story suggested Les had lost the plot entirely (despite autocues either side of him at the front of the stage) until he delivered a punchline that was as vulgar as it was jaw-droppingly hilarious.
In between there’s a brief appearance of a new character, Sir Les’ brother Gerard, a bald, tagged, paeodophile man of the cloth that owes a little to a Catherine Tate character and a complete change of pace with the subtler, pathos-heavy ghost, Sandy Stone allowing a chance to relax those grins and look forward to both the interval and what was to come after it.
The ‘Eat’ of the title refers to Les’ piss-take of celebrity cooking shows as he lovingly conjures up rissoles from ingredients including, meat, spices and large quantities of spittle. The ‘Pray’ is Edna’s spiritually-enlightened return from a spell in an Indian ashram though could just as easily be ‘Prey’ as her gimlet-eyed stare surveys her adoring fans for victims. The “Laugh” is self-explanatory and there’s plenty of these. Old gags, new gags and plenty of quick-witted ripostes to members of the audience, too many of whom are more-than-willing victims.
One victim, rather foolishly, tried to plug a weekend retreat in Cumbria, a ‘critic’ sat scribbling notes in the front row. Foolish people. Had they never seen Les or Edna before? At one point Edna, appearing to enjoy herself, proclaimed “This show is writing itself!”.
If you’ve never seen Edna (or Les) live you this could be your last chance. Though a brief appearance by Barry Humphries as himself at the end hints teasingly it may not necessarily be the case. Though at nearly 80 years old it’s unlikely he’ll be able to tour 3 hour shows for much longer.
Andrew’s party of 12 (2nd and 3rd row stalls) some of whom were ‘Edna live’ virgins, all emerged surprisingly spittle-free and waving their gladioli with very enthusiastic responses. Phil was hit in the face as a gladi was thrown at him by a dancer (an apology was mouthed) but, such was his mood he, isn’t contemplating a law suit.
It’s frequently riotously hysterical, leaving you slightly exhausted from laughing so much, yet sadly feels like the end of an era. One can happily forgive Edna’s knowingly stage-managed standing ovation. She deserves it.
Not one to miss.