The sign in the Civic Theatre says that the production contains “theatrical smoke & haze, loud sound effects, strobe lighting, coarse language, partial nudity, adult themes & flying floral arrangements”. It could also have added spitting on rows 1-4, racist terms, farting and poignancy.
At 78, Barry Humphries is packing up his multiple personalities – and there are many – into his old kit bag and taking them back to Moonee Ponds. Or possibly Bali. But not before his farewell tour Dame Edna: Eat Pray Laugh, comes to Auckland, “the gateway to Tonga!”. On a beautifully designed suburban back yard set, Humphries gives us two of his most well-known creations, Sir Les Patterson and Dame Edna Everage, but also a new character, Les’s brother Gerard, an overly touchy-feely man of the cloth (“I’ve touched nearly everyone I’ve met”), and an old one: Sandy Stone, first seen in 1958.
He begins with Sir Les, offensive to his core, singing, spitting, farting and using racist terms that haven’t been heard in New Zealand public life since the 70s. It seems like an old shtick, and it’s the topical jokes, such as one about Kiwi barbecues exploding, that go down the best. Aided by four amazing singer-dancers and a piano player, Les cooks – really cooks – rissoles. But warning: if you’re in the first four rows, you may be invited up to sample the cuisine. Also: take a small umbrella.
The show is a marvel of quick change: Sandy Stone, in pyjamas and dressing gown and clutching a hot water bottle (Humphries revealed in this 2009 interview with Diana Wichtel that the hottie has the words on the back, although he didn’t seem to be looking) shuffles on. This is where a little tear might spring to the eye: the deceased Sandy remembers his life with Beryl and the loss of their little Juney, a small suburban life in a lost Australia.
But Dame Edna is the star of the show and here the brilliant ad-libber Humphries goes to work, grilling audience members on their, er, small suburban lives and their dress sense (“What did that material used to be before it was a frock, I wonder?”) The gentle humiliation continues – if you’ve been insulted by Dame Edna, you really have been insulted by an expert – and audience participation ensues. We won’t spoil the show, other than to say it involves spectacular costumes, dancing, singing, yoga and gladioli, and perhaps most poignant of all, an appearance by Humphries, still joking, still mixing sadness and happiness in one breath as he waves goodbye.
DAME EDNA: EAT PRAY LAUGH, Civic Theatre, Auckland, until August 18. Info here.