Opera House, Manchester
Can the purple reign of housewife superstar Dame Edna Everage have really come to an end here in Manchester?
At the final curtain of his first of five nights his close friend, and creator, Barry Humphries slyly asked the audience to promise to come to his next farewell tour and then, in the grandest of showbiz traditions, leaves them laughing.
At the age of 80 perhaps there’s all the more reason to treasure the memories of a craftsman comic actor at work. This was a night of supremely wicked comedy.
Through his outrageous monster of a drag act he has created a character who refracts prejudice and bigotry, “saying the things others wish they could say” as he puts it. It’s often wince-inducing humour that proved too much for at least one audience member here, provoked to barrack him from the balcony but put in her place by fellow audience members as much as Humphries himself. If easily offended, your sensibilities are fair game for Edna and ‘her’ tribe of appalling Australian grotesques. Cultural attaché Sir Les Patterson; his even less-cultured clerical brother Gerard; and the ‘recently-deceased’ Sandy Stone provide the first act warm-up, with the latter character especially adept at taking comedy up particularly dark cul-de-sacs – where you’re not always guaranteed the glimmer of a punchline. But then Humphries, throughout his career, has continually demanded we re-calibrate our political correctness – even before that term became common coinage. For Jeremy and Jeanette, from the audience, there will always be the added memory of helping Sir Les out with his barbecue, while complete strangers Wayne and Barbara ended up married on stage by Edna herself, complete with Polaroids to show their grandchildren.
Like the rest of us they will be able to say they were in the company of a comedy genius.
The final farewell was on Saturday, with the added poignancy that Humphries’ grandfather left Manchester in 1888 to settle in Australia. He could never have imagined how his grandson would retire back here.