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Barry Humphries: Eat, Pray, Laugh
Barry Humphries: Last Night Of The Poms
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Barry Humphries: Last Night Of The Poms
Australian national treasures Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson are going on a nationwide tour for the first time in 28 years, with music from the UK's finest orchestras, conducted by Carl Davies CBE
Last Night Of The Poms
Dame Edna hasn’t performed Last Night Of The Poms for 28 years. It may be churlish to say so, but maybe there’s a good reason for that.
For dress it up how you may, at the core of this show is a 40 minutes of a man with a sparkly frock and terrible singing voice screeching his way through some simplistic, not-especially-funny lyrics in tribute to his native Australia. That might make a funny 30 seconds on Britain’s Got Talent, but, strewth, is it soul sapping in the flesh.
And dress it up, Barry Humphries certainly has. This is a phenomenal production, with the full might of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, conducted by the piece’s co-creator Carl Davis, and backed with a choir that must feature 120 voices.
It’s an awesome display of musical talent, wasted on this cod cantata which follows an entirely predictable trot though Australian history, from convicts via goldrush to an unembellished list of Aussie celebrities from Hugh Jackman to Peter Andre. The lyrical highlights go no further than the couplet ‘It’s my idea of heaven/and the Prime Miniser’s called Kevin’ and racially dubious ‘[Cpt Cook] perished poor chap, in an Abo attack’.
The whole endeavour smacks of a vanity project that’s spiralled way out of control, when money or scale have ceased to be an obstacle. But then no one does vanity with quite the same style as the housewife gigastar (inflation seems to be in force with the prefix that quantifies her fame). When she’s posturing away trying to fake sympathy for the paupers in the upper-circle cheap seats, or boasting of her glamorous life with friends like Elton John and the Duchess of Cornwall forever on the phone, she’s on glitteringly bitchy form, with banter as slick, and as gloriously condescending, as it ever was – even though Humphries is 75 years old.
But such pointed badinage is strictly limited to make way for the musical centrepiece, which singularly fails to raise the same rousing spirits of its Proms near-namesake, despite one patriotic punter bringing an Australian flag into the auditorium. Indeed a small, but noticeable, number of punters start drifting away from their £65 seats before the show’s end. Maybe it’s to catch trains to suburban homes, as the night is long, but maybe because the show is getting just too self-indulgent and under-funny.
In support, Humphries’s cultural attaché Sir Les Patterson suffers the same problems. His musical piece is Peter And The Shark, an Australianised version of the Prokofiev piece, with various instruments illustrating various characters drawn from antipodean fauna in a tedious gag-light story, slowed to a wearying pace by the soloists’ interludes.
Yet again, when he’s left to his own devices, Patterson’s a delight. Sure, a lot of the comedy comes from Strine slang such as ‘budgie smugglers’ for Speedos or other cheap innuendo, but he does it excellently, with all the exaggerated flair of a pantomime grotesque.
But mostly, he’s funny for no more sophisticated reason that the arching waterfalls of phlegm that spew from his mouth and over the audience every time he hits a plosive ‘p’ sound, which seems to occur with undue frequency. If the front row had dipped into the Royal Albert Hall merely to avoid the downpour outside, they would have found themselves more drenched inside the building than out.
They would not be the only people disappointed with a show that seemed to trade too much on Humphries’s weaknesses and not enough on his strengths. Had he decided to save himself £40,000 or so and dispense with the massed musicians, and relied solely on his considerable wit to entertain the audience, we would all have been happier. For as it is, this revival is very much like Australia itself – with huge expanses of tedious nothingness between isolated centres of no-nonsense fun.
|Date of live review: Wednesday 16th Sep, '09|
Review by Steve Bennett
I can't believe how the comments are so similar to my thoughts and comments. I actually used the Peter and the Wolf analogy talking to a colleague.Good individual elements adding up to a dogs' dinner of show. I still think Barry is great though and for 75 he needs something to pad a show out.
Also sadly have to agree with much of the above. I attended the Bournemouth show to see Sir Les & Dame Edna for the first time. Humphrey's characters were great to see, but they were subdued by this odd staging. The orchestra and choir were also excellent, but the material didn't seem to suit, with vast gaps and interruptions, which all felt quite uncomfortable and embarrassing. The choir were present but not used at all in the first half. Overall on this showing, comedy and music didn't blend. A spectacular failure to witness, yet it was full of high quality and potential? A brave try, Barry' but perhaps all you really need is yourself and a simpler musical accompaniment such as a wandering pianist!
For over 20 years I have roared with laughter at Sir Les and his style of humour so when my girlfriend said she had bought tickets to see this show live i was very excited. at the opening of the show when Sir Les walked on the applause were deafening and for the first 10 mins the audience laughed and clapped. Then the music started. Don't misunderstand me the orchestra were top rate and very professional, if i had bought tickets to see an orchestra I would have been more than pleased with the performance. However i was at the show, as i believe the rest of the audience was, expecting to see a world famous comic entertain me. Eighty per cent of the show was music with sir les or dame edna interjecting with one liners or brief narratives which at best were mildly funny and at worst were semi-inaudible over the music. As the show went on I watched more and more people get up and leave and felt my own disappointment growing. We stayed till the end hoping that he might have saved the best till last but this was not the case. At the end it was a relief to leave. Don't waste your time and money on this show, buy the DVD of previous shows and laugh at them instead. I'm still very disappointed.
My wife and I were also very disappointed with the show which we travelled down to Bournemouth to see. I believe most of the people attending were of a like mind. The quality of the orchestra was not in question but I almost fell asleep with boredom.
Totally agree with all of the above,we felt we were misguided by the advertising and should at least get free tickets to see another show to compensate
Four of us spent a lot of money to see Dame Edna and what a disappointment it was! It was not what we expected and both the first and second half were extremely boring. We paid to see a funny Les Patterson & Dame Edna and that was not what we got. Don't waste your money on this show!
What a disappointment! We sat down with high expectations of side splitting humour and top class entertainment. Our balloon very quickly deflated through 'Peter and the Wolf' hosted by Les Paterson. However when Dame Edna walked onto stage our spirits and anticipation rose again as she did not disappoint us for about 15 minutes or so. After this the self indulgent fiasco started supported by the extremely misused talents of the orchestra and choir that was mind numbingly tedious and not what we had paid good money to experience. We left before the end feeling very disappointed and slightly embarrassed for the top class artists on the stage being a part of such a debacle. Nothing worked. Was this a case of 'The Emperor and his New Clothes'? Why didn't someone tell Barry that this just did not work and was seriously unfunny.
Totally agree with all above comments. Very disappointing. Perhaps Sir Les/Dame Edna should think about retirement. Stayed to the end but was envious of those leaving early. Tickets overpriced for what was on offer.
Self indulgent and lazy! Most of the gags were old and the music too long and unfunny. How can such an erudite and witty man have lost the plot so totally? Come on Barry, i heard most of those lines in "back with a Vengeance", a brilliant show from 20 years ago. Sharpen up or put both characters out to grass and retire gracefully.
Watching from the upper gallery, the show was fascinating as a spectacle: the audience rocking in their seats with laughter when Humphries was able to talk to them without all that sodding music in the way. I feel really sad that his long-awaited return to the UK stage has been such a failure. Edna called, as he left the stage, "I'll be back!" Let's hope it is in an intimate theatre setting with just his characters, his audience and at most, a piano!
Agree totally with comments above, very disappointing evening - would have walked out after the first half had I know the second half was going to be just as bad - in the event we left early.
After being a fan of Dame Edna and Sir Les since I was a teenager seeing 'Dame Edna back with a vengence' this production was the most boring yet, it did not allow the true Dame Edna / Sir Les to shine through, what with unecessary song and poems, this would have been a far more enjoyable experience if they had cut out all the orchestra and allow Barry Humprhies to do what he does best, and that is comedy. I would sack my agent if i were him.