The cosy set is perfect for the ‘fireside chat’ vibe of the show. It consists of a comfortable chair, drinks table, carpet, piano (with of course, a vase of gladioli), and a large screen, ornately framed. Tonight, pianist Ben Dawson appeared in a very fetching apron to dust and vacuum before Barry Humphries himself entered to rapturous applause, something which I imagine happens at each venue. He was looking very dapper with colourful jacket, tie, pocket handkerchief and odd socks (which actually co-ordinated with the rest of the outfit perfectly, so not that odd).
Billed as ‘an intimate, confessional evening’ it is perhaps not quite as revelatory or in depth as you may expect. In the first half he talks about his childhood and early career, taking us up to the 1950s, more or less. It is a meandering journey covering subjects such as the architectural styles of Melbourne residential areas, his first stage performances; school bullies, and childhood shenanigans. The reminiscences are accompanied by short bursts of piano music and images projected on to the screen.
In the second half the focus is more on Dame Edna Everage, with a good dollop of Sir Les Patterson thrown in. We hear about the origins and influences of both characters and are treated to several film clips from TV shows, including early interviews with the Trumps and Boris Johnson, during which their future political appointments are predicted. Who knew Dame Edna was so prophetic? Humphries also relates a time during the 1960s when he ended up in hospital suffering from the effects of alcohol abuse, and how he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. In keeping with the rest of the show, he remained upbeat and positive when describing this episode, even getting some laughs in.
Although obviously scripted and well-rehearsed the evening feels like it is a relaxed chat with an old friend – or non-politically correct favourite uncle, who has a myriad of funny stories to tell. And this is just the tip of the iceberg: there are many and frequent laugh-out-loud moments throughout, with giggles and more sedate laughs inbetween. Although a couple of latecomers were let off, there was still audience interaction. Well, if you do sit in the front few rows you know what to expect.
Ending with a tribute to Emily Perry (Dame Edna’s bridesmaid, Madge Allsop) and the expected gladioli distribution, Humphries demonstrates why he became, and continues to be, a comedy legend.
Directed by: Nicki Wollaston
Lighting and Projection by: Stevie Party
Produced by: David Shepherd, Paul Dainty AM, Lucy Robertson
Barry Humphries, The Man Behind The Mask is currently touring. For full dates and locations check the shows website here.