Thursday, 24 May 2018

Barry Humphries, May 23, 2018 ****

The Man Behind the Mask
At Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne, until May 26, 2018 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ****
 Also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Thus May 24, 2018 & later in print (Fri 25 May). KH

‘Don’t look at Barry. He’s drawing attention to himself,’ said Barry Humphries’ mother when he was a child.

Humphries made a wildly successful career of drawing attention to himself and, in Barry Humphries: The Man Behind the Mask, rather than playing his infamous characters, he uses personal, sometimes revealing storytelling to allow his audience into the life and mind of the man himself.

The show is not gut-wrenching, laughter-inducing comedy but, rather, a relaxed, fireside chat with Humphries directly addressing the audience as he lounges in a leather armchair, strolls across the stage, or leans on the piano to reminisce with his long-term accompanist, Andrew Ross.

Humphries cuts a dashing figure, sporting a fuchsia jacket drawn across his ample girth, and, before telling stories of celebrity and success, he reveals funny or intimate snippets about his childhood in Camberwell, his critical, superior mother and generous dad, and his school days where he bullied and was bullied.

He spins yarns about his life as a university dropout and aspiring, but badly cast actor with the Union Theatre Repertory (now Melbourne Theatre Company), touring bumpy productions of Shakespeare and Noel Coward.

His stories are peppered with acerbic comments, witty repartee, and Australianisms that, sadly, have gone out of fashion, such as ‘You don’t know me from a bar of soap’.

Of course, fans are hanging out for a visit from the vain and volatile Dame Edna Everage, so Humphries delights fans by relating Edna’s evolution from dowdy, suburban Aussie woman into Housewife Superstar.

The highlights are video excerpts of Edna’s outrageous chat show, her gob-smacked guests, Royal Command performance and the unforgettable interview that dissolved Michael Parkinson into giggles.

Humphries tells tall tales and true of intrusive fans, and revisits – on video –other favourite characters: boozy Sir Les Patterson and poignant Sandy Stone.

Older Australians will recognise people, places, expressions and attitudes as Humphries talks about his past in Melbourne, but this show is a tribute to Humphries’ life and achievements and should appeal to fans of all ages.

by Kate Herbert

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