Eat Pray Laugh, Barry Humphries is presenting to London audiences (potentially) the last time to see his iconic characters. Watching him perform live is to see an old comic master at work. Quick fire comments fly by and jokes (no matter how old or recycled from previous shows) still manage to seem funny. But at three hours it is an overlong show that will have you thankful retirement beckons for these characters... Even if you admire his stamina for persevering through this marathon of a show.
The first character we are introduced to is Sir Les Patterson. Sir Les is meant to be offensive and he does this by having a large erection protrude through his shorts, constant spitting when he speaks and an endless stream of fart jokes. The spitting from speaking rains down on the first few rows of the audience (particularly at members of the audience in the front who don't find the act particularly funny). If you are in the spit rows, you are best advised to at least pretend you're having a good time.
Eventually things calm down with the introduction of the ghost of Sandy Stone, the decent man of the Melbourne suburbs who talks about his death and his wife who is put into a nursing home and then forgotten about. It is an abrupt change of tone for the show and the subtlety sits oddly against the broad stereotypes of Sir Les and his pedophile brother.
After the interval it is Dame Edna who holds sway and dominates proceedings for the rest of the evening. She is introduced through a television-expose which is useful in providing context as well for people who may be unfamiliar with her (if there is anyone who is). She warns us that she is going to be recycling a "teensy bit" of material for the show and she certainly does.
But at least the old jokes are funny. The central premise of the new material, based on an Eat Pray Love-moment Dame Edna has had while staying at an ashram, strains for laughs with its casual racism and outdated stereotypes. The overlong audience participation moment where she marries two unlikely strangers on stage also falls flat with its over-reliance on her audience-sourced freaks. It gets worse when attempts to call friends and family of the newly married couple leads to a series of voicemail messages. After all, even if anyone has a land line that they use nowadays, nobody is going to answer it after 10pm.
Perhaps a show half the length, with fewer pretty young actors standing around looking superfluous, would make for a snappier and slicker send off. In its current form, it's an awfully long goodbye.
Nevertheless this show has won rave reviews and runs at the Palladium until January before touring the UK through to March.