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Comedy Review: Eat Pray Laugh Barry Humphries' Farewell Tour - King's Theatre, Glasgow ✭✭✭✭✭

                   

Review by Sharman Prince

With a showbiz career spanning more than half a century which includes being in the original company of Lionel Bart's "Oliver!" and featuring in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", Barry Humphries returns to Glasgow' King's Theatre for the first time since 1987 with his "Eat, Pray, Laugh" Farewell Tour which concentrates on the creations of Humphries himself, appropriately a celebration of the talent that Humphries clearly still possesses. 

Initially we are faced with Brian Thomson's charmingly simple, backyard set featuring a tool shed and an outdoor 'dunny' (toilet to us Brits) appearing harmless enough, together with an onstage piano, adorned in an elegant grass covering, matching its clipped hedge surroundings.

The comedy begins in earnest when Les Patterson arrives with his backing troupe, the "Condiments", and recounts snippets of his life for us replete with asides, innuendos and a terrific interaction with the audience (complete with spittle - beware if you're sitting in the front row of the stalls!). Les is, of course, infamously crude, somewhat vulgar and certainlynot PC. He is a cleverly created caricature of a sexist, racist, self-serving politician. And the audience love it, even his singular use of the 'dunny'. We are also treated to some song and dance throughout as Les reveals the next stage of his career beyond politics; "Les Get Cookin'" in which we are 'treated' to Les' culinary skills.

It is Les who here provides the first opportunity - and there are several throughout the evening -  for audience interaction, a tricky theatrical tool, but here used to excellent effect with Humphries proving his ability to improvise and deal with the unexpected. Humphries even uses this audience participation as part of a segue into his next, less familiar, character, Gerard.

Introducing a less familiar character is always interesting and permits a fresh element to the evening's proceedings and allows Humphries to play some more with the audience and their expectations. Indeed, towards the end of the first act the tone changes dramatically as we are faced with an unexpectedly poignant character, Sandy Stone, who, sitting alone in spotlight, talks about issues that come to many later in life and even beyond it. This, of course, only serves to make the humour which ultimately arrives all the more important and uplifting although the contrasting changes of tone and pace come as a surprise to some.
   
The second act opens with an eastern influenced flavour in design and is devoted to that Grande Dame of Showbiz, Dame Edna Everage herself, who, naturally, received a rapturous applause following a humorous look back on the scandals of her life in the style of a schlocky Showbiz  promo entitled "Dame Edna Revealed". This set up enabled Dame Edna to enter into her frank conversation about the reasons for her retirement with an audience who are more than eager to listen.

Humphries is clearly most at home in the guise of the World's most famous housewife and Dame Edna really does shine, be it in her quick asides, her barbs, clever one-liners, sharp tongue (which is mostly directed at particular audience members and their appearance or social standing), or her witty 'honesty'. We are privy to personal insights into the life of Dame Edna and of her family, not to mention her medical history. Indeed, Dame Edna's favourite subject is the primary topic and that subject is, of course, herself, as Dame Edna is eager to remind us. 

However, Dame Edna is all heart and she endeavours to bring romance to a lucky pair from the audience in a final piece of onstage audience participation that shows what a master Humphries is at his art, before culminating in a song and dance fit for the Dame.

It is in this second act that everyone, onstage and off, is having the most fun and appears most at ease.

Simon Phillips' direction of the witty, outrageous and downright funny material is crisp and sharp, even if the sudden shift in act one comes somewhat abruptly. The ensemble cast are clearly having fun whilst Nick Len, who provides the musical accompaniment at piano throughout, almost never leaves the stage.

But, of course, the evening naturally belongs to Humphries himself who naturally shines in whatever role he is embodying. It is a testament to his prowess as an actor and performer that he is so deftly able to transform, and convince, from one character to the next. Humphries is also a generous performer in that it never seems a selfish show, despite the characters involved, but rather a production that revels in, and is appreciative of, the existence of its audience.

Whilst the humour may sometimes be on the cusp, Humphries' delivery is so knowing and given with such verve and appeal that it is never seen as an attack, even upon the poor souls who are its subject. It is all part of the fun and Humphries is somehow able to create an atmosphere of such joviality that the audience are always ultimately treated with respect. Indeed it is clear that this show is a thank you, a love letter even, to all who have ever seen, encountered or endured any of Humphries' creations.  A fact reiterated when the man himself makes a final curtain speech as Barry Humphries; perhaps the most honest and touching element of the evening.

It is a fond farewell indeed.

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