First Night: Last Night of the Poms, Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 16 September 2009
Having shrunk dramatically from 13 tour dates to only five, one wonders if there was ever a likelihood that tonight could have been Barry Humphries' first and last night of the poms. Fortunately for British audiences they have not been completely denied opportunities to see Humphries, the celebrated 75-year-old Australian comedian. Unfortunately, the show he has reprised here will short-change fans of the real essence of his legendary comedy characters Sir Les Patterson and Dame Edna Everage.
Last Night of the Poms was staged in 1982, the last time that the lecherous and lascivious Sir Les Patterson, Australia's most errant diplomat, was teamed up with housewife superstar Dame Edna Everage in the UK. Meanwhile, Dame Edna's last live outing in the UK was 10 years ago and her most recent TV sighting was The Dame Edna Treatment in 2007, attesting to her comedic longevity.
Given the quality of Humphries' creations it is hard to fathom what possessed him to build on his iconic status by resurrecting this show where Sir Les, backed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, performs a parody of Peter and The Wolf called Peter and the Shark and Dame Edna performs a cantata history of Australia.
If these concepts sound duff on paper, that is because they are. The narration and lyrics of the compositions respectively held little by way of comic illustration. Dame Edna's cantata was so close to being a matter-of-fact, if cursory, description of Australian history that the evening took on the feeling of a hugely dull school trip.
It would be easy to forget the positives because of these fluff and nonsense set pieces but they were some in evidence. When Sir Les and Dame Edna were given their freedom at the start of their acts, they were as cheeky and fresh as ever. A dishevelled Sir Les continually sprayed the front row with spittle as he swigged from a whiskey glass and remarked of the poor weather outside: "dampness is not always a bad thing is it fellas?" Claiming to have been as "busy as a Baghdad bricklayer" this gaudy buffoon gave The Secret Policeman's Ball a run for its money when it came to subjecting the regal surrounds of the Albert Hall to filth and puerility. It was joyous to behold but so sadly short. Likewise Dame Edna's moment in the sun was merely enough to momentarily perk her beloved gladioli. Among her brief ribaldry she barracked the upper circle seats of the "Royal Alfred Hall" for housing former hedge fund managers, the "nouveau pauvre", who could once afford stalls seats.
At one point Dame Edna breaks her cantata to take a call from Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. From this ruse some belated Bush jokes were made when it turns out that Edna has been advising Michelle Obama and the First Lady confided in Edna what state she found the White House in when they took occupancy. Bush jokes may be considered old but mercifully they are not as old as the concept of The Last Night of the Poms, and they proved a welcome blast from the past by comparison.
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