Having shrunk dramatically from 13 dates to only five, one wonders if this could have been Barry Humphries' first and last Night of the Poms. Fortunately for British audiences they have not been completely denied the opportunity to see Humphries, the celebrated 75-year-old Australian comedian whose career has spanned over 50 years. Unfortunately, the show that he has reprised shortchanges fans of the real essence of his legendary comedy characters Sir Les Patterson and Dame Edna Everage.
Last Night of the Poms was originally staged in 1982, the last time that the lascivious Sir Les Patterson, Australia's most errant diplomat, was teamed up with housewife superstar Dame Edna Everage in the UK. Dame Edna's last live outing in the UK was 10 years ago and her most recent TV sighting was in 2007. Given the quality of Humphries' creations, it's hard to fathom what possessed him to resurrect a 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 hold little by way of comic illustration. While "Peter and the Shark" was broken by the need to show off what the orchestra could do, Dame Edna's cantata was so close to being a matter-of-fact description of Australian history that the evening took on the feeling of a large-scale and rather dull school trip.
It would be easy to forget the positives because of these fluff-and-nonsense set pieces, but there were some. When the pair were given their freedom at the start of their acts they were as fresh as ever. Sir Les continually sprayed the front row with spittle as he swigged from a whiskey glass. 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 Albert Hall to filth. Dame Edna's moment in the sun was merely enough to momentarily perk her beloved gladioli. Among her all-too-brief ribaldry, she barracked the upper circle seats for being a "Niagara of nonentities" and housing the "nouveau pauvre", who could once afford stalls seats.
Touring until 2 October.