Comedy review: Barry Humphries' Farewell Tour- 'an uproarious last hurrah'

Eat Pray Laugh! at the London Palladium

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The Independent Culture

Sir Les Patterson may, as he tells us, have put the “uck” in “tucker” in his new guise as “Australia's answer to Nigella Lawson”, but his creator Barry Humphries is certainly in no danger of putting the “wan” in “swansong” in this uproarious last hurrah to live performance. 

Pushing 80 now and performing four of his characters, Humphries has the audience convulsed for over two-and-three-quarter hours with a riot of lewd and gloriously dubious comic brilliance. Mentally, he's as alert and pouncing as ever, managing to weave topical jokes about Princess Anne and horse meat and about Les's alleged intimacies with Rebekah Brooks into the more time-honoured hilarities of these routines.

The saliva-spraying former cultural attache is trying to reinvent himself as a celebrity chef and the proceedings begin in his backyard where he's rustling up some toxic rissoles on his barbie for a TV pilot while periodically having to dash to the “dunny” for deafening explosions of diarrhoea. It is, outrageously, the definition of lavatory humour.

Les's cheerfully Neanderthal persona is, of course, the licence for an orgy of political incorrectness and his claim that he wants his rissoles to be a metaphor for multi-culturalism results in some breathtakingly near-the-knuckle xenophobic gags: “Is there anyone in Poland, I wonder? I reckon it's the Marie Celeste of Europe”. Humphries plays around with the limits of offensiveness less successfully, however, with a new, under-cooked creation, Les's brother, a toothily blithe and grinning clergyman, Gerard, whose predilections become apparent when his interest in the boyish pianist activates his neon electronic ankle-tag.

The evening takes a wistful turn before the interval with a beyond-the-grave monologue by spectral oldster Sandy Stone who muses on his uneventful suburban life and, in his mild way, launches a quietly devastating attack on the neglect of his wife by the regulation-bound “wellness team” at the “facility” where she is a “registered care recipient”. 

Then, after the break and a hysterical mockumentary about her career so far, Dame Edna arrives, at last, atop an elephant to reveal that she has undergone a spiritual awakening in an ashram and is abandoning the false world of show business.

It's the least retiring renunciation of the stage you are ever likely to witness. “I'm in my comfort zone up here,” she declares, predatory eyes swivelling behind the spangled specs as they rake the far-from-comfortable front rows in search of victims. Her new-found talent for detecting “the perfect tantric match” leads her to drag on two reluctant, ill-assorted victims for an on-stage wedding before ringing up the man's real-life spouse to tell her that she's history. 

The Dame's gift for unforgettably pungent phraseology (her lesbian daughter Valmai and partner are described as “fur-traders”, the mere thought of them provoking a bout of acid-reflux) has not diminished nor has her delusion that she's a radical role-model: “I don't pick on people – I empower them.”

After the ritual waving of gladdies, Humphries returned to stage as himself in a blue velvet smoking-jacket and fedora and made us promise that we would join him again on his next farewell tour. He is an irreplaceable comic genius and one fervently prays that, like his fellow-Aussie Dame Nellie Melba, he will make positively last appearances a way of life. 

To 5 January, then touring till 8 March; 0844 874 0743