By Alan Wooding
The arrival of an inebriated Australian cultural attaché spelled disaster for anyone unlucky enough to be sitting in the front three rows of the stalls at Milton Keynes Theatre last night as cult comedian Barry Humphries opened his farewell tour.
The appearance of Humphries’ grossly offensive alter ego, The Honorable Sir Les Patterson in a neat backyard setting dressed in Bermuda shorts and flowered shirt, brought howls of laughter from everyone in the packed auditorium.
The infamous Sir Les managed to sing, belch, spit and continually pass wind while launching into the type of adult humour, racist comments and coarse language that has had audiences in raptures for over half a century. In fact an umbrella might be a handy things to take along with you should you find yourself in close proximity!
Political correctness went out of the window as Sir Les made his pitch to join the ranks of celebrity chefs as he cooks his own version of rissoles on a barbecue hotplate with the help of two unsuspecting audience members and the assistance of four helpers/singers/dancers and a much-abused Asian piano player.
And that’s before Les dives into the on-stage toilet suffering from the ‘trots’ for the second time, only to reappear after a double quick change as his bald-headed brother Gerard who has a penchant for young boys and likes to hang around schools. Man of the cloth Gerard is supposedly a touchy-feely minister who claims to have “Touched nearly everyone I’ve ever met!”
The first act ends with plenty of smoke and mist before Humphries’ 1958 creation, pensioner ‘Sandy Stone’ shuffles into view dressed in pyjamas and a dressing gown while clutching a hot water bottle.
And what follows is an amusing then emotional but perhaps long-winded recollection of his life spent with his wife, Beryl and the loss of their daughter Juney at just four years old.
The second act was pure magic as Humphries, now 79, appeared in his more familiar glamorous costumes. Having announced that he would finally be putting his multiple collection of savoury – and unsavoury! – characters to bed for good with a worldwide farewell tour, the packed auditorium welcomes the arrival of his best-loved creation and the darling of Melbourne’s Moonee Ponds, Dame Edna Everage.
It was a poignant moment as ‘she’ appears for the first – and last? – time on the Milton Keynes stage. However Humphries’ age is clearly beginning to show as there were two prompting autocues which he kept looking down at, even though the old magic was still there when poking fun and mildly abusing his audience in his inimitable Aussie style.
With references to ‘The Sleepy Hollow Home for the Bewildered’, Edna picks on certain females, poking fun at their common “frocks” while also referring to their “suburban lives”. Meanwhile the “common plebs” in the upper circle also came in for some stick as Edna exclaimed that they obviously came from the Fishermead area of the new city!
And the humiliation continued as a married couple from Tingrith were hauled onto the stage for Edna’s version of ‘marriage guidance’. It included a real phone call to the husband’s mother who had already gone to bed and, yet seemingly unfazed, the elderly lady held her own when the Australian superstar told her what was happening to her offspring live on the stage!
I won’t spoil the rest but as tradition dictates, Dame Edna naturally ends the evening by throwing gladioli flowers into the audience while singing ‘Eat Pray Laugh’ – the show’s title song – before waving goodbye for what is expected to be the last time … or is it?
Eat Pray Laugh runs until tomorrow (Saturday) with a matinee at 2.30pm and sold out evening show at 7.30pm while there are still a few tickets available for tonight (Friday) at 7.30pm To book call 0844 871 7652 or visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes (booking fees apply).