Mention the name Barry Humphries to a selection of people under say, 40…. and you’ll probably get blank looks from quite a few of them. Mention “Dame Edna Everage” and I’ll wager they all know exactly who you’re talking about.
A farewell tour in 2012 only left Humphries feeling temporarily rested and at 88 he is back to talk about the man behind the world-famous creations, Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson.
We were invited along to the Churchill Theatre in Bromley for an evening of gentle, carefully rambling, and often laugh out loud history of the life and career of Barry Humphries.
I should say that I was intrigued as to how the evening would go, given that Humphries is now 88, and has had a very full life of education, travel, performance, alcoholism, marriage, parenthood and Art. The following 2 hours(with an interval) was not only a master-class in audience enthralment, but also incredibly impressive in Humphries' energy and abilities.
The stage was set as an imaginary living room with a comfortable chair for an elderly man to rest in, a piano and accompanist to aid the shifting of time-period, and a large wall mounted picture frame that served as an audio-visual device for clips of film and pictures.
Humphries emerged onto the stage, and a genuinely warm and appreciative applause built. He stopped to thank the audience for the encouragement in a seemingly very genuine way. This was a man in the latter stages of a very talented life, who clearly had loved performing and was glad to still be able to do so.
Humphries then begun his show, tailoring quips about the locale with a polished ease before moving on into early childhood and school.
Short stories about other contemporary children, his schooling, and life in the suburbs of Melbourne flow with ease, never taking to long, or being too brief with regular points of hilarity. Having discovered his Father was actually a well regarded and talented house-builder Humphries decided he would become an Architect, via a degree in law, which didn’t work out. That left him with a lifelong love of painting and drawing though, for a while he was a cartoonist for Private Eye.
Dame Edna was created in a slightly different version quite early on, being based in part upon some of his mother’s mannerisms. Little did Humphries know then that Everage would become the lynch-pin of his lifelong career!
A move to Sydney brought him a place in the Phillip street Theatre a revue and comedy theatre. It was here that the Everage character was properly founded.
Becoming quite successful locally, Humphries decided that he would leave Australia and try his luck in London. A bold and risky move but one that ultimately proved correct. Sustaining himself with a job in a Raspeberry-Ripple Ice cream factory at night, he set out to conquer the London stage. Many parts followed with Humphries being best known perhaps for “Oliver” the musical.
Humphries was always been happiest though in one-man shows or roles. Dame Edna Everage became that conduit for him, and his career as Edna grew and grew. Dame Edna has met, interviewed, been interviewed and frankly dominated just about everyone who is anyone in the entertainment industry. Edna’s acerbic wit was rarely ever equalled in those appearances, and certainly both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson were remarkably both bamboozled and revealed by Edna for their political ambitions!
The show had in my view a great balance of the personal against the stardom. This is not a show about the larger than life characters, but about Humphries himself. It’s often difficult to know what someone’s motivations really are. Fame and stardom often hide that behind the glitz and glamour. Here though we are led to the conclusion that for Humphries the boiled down essence is “performing” Entertaining others is not just a skill or talent but for some it’s essential.
At 88 years of age it’s clear that Barry Humphries still has what it takes!
A hugely enjoyable evening and highly recommended to catch one of the remaining shows.
The Man behind the Mask manbehindthemask.co.uk