After a career holding up a mirror to Australia, legendary comedian Barry Humphries now opts to expose his own highs and lows to audiences
Acupboard of darkness. Camberwell, Melbourne, late 1930s. The cupboard stands in the corridor of a suburban kindergarten run by the evil Mrs Flint. The boy howling inside the locked cupboard is the son of local house builder Eric Humphries and his wife Louisa.
Mrs Flint had dragged the boy down the corridor and locked him inside this cupboard, promising not to release him until he found his manners; until the boy learnt how to be boring; how to be normal and average like everybody else.
“Edna!” the boy howls inside the cupboard, tears running down his chubby cheeks. “Edna. Edna. Please come, Edna!” Because Edna always comes. She always saves the day.
In his teens, the boy in the cupboard will watch his mum crumble; break down and repair herself and break down and repair herself through a long depression he’ll only fully understand later in life when his own world begins to crumble, turns him into a near-dead alcoholic at 36, bound to a mental health bed in the Delmont Private Hospital, Glen Iris, attempting to convey to a psychiatrist exactly why he feels so substantially insubstantial.
But Edna will save him. She’ll emerge through the darkness in a purple sequined dress and heels, peacock spectacles and too much red lipstick. A walking jewelframed mirror reflection of a growing nation’s prudishness and class snobbery.
She will host television shows and write best-selling books, and thousands across the world will fill concert halls just to see her smile. “Hello possums,” she will say lovingly, and the whole world will slap their knees at Mrs Norm Everage’s grand 50year piss-take of those who would choose to be normal and average.
“For more than 60 years, Humphries has held a mirror to Australia and Australians,” says the publicity spiel behind his latest one-man show, Barry Humphries: The Man Behind the Mask.
“Revealing their virtues, their foibles, their triumphs and their failings through a gallery of adored characters, including Dame Edna Everage, Sir Les Patterson and Sandy Stone. Now he will spin the mirror around, exposing his own highs and lows, the good times and the not so good.”
He’s finally diving into his own world. “I’m not in disguise,” he says.
It’s all related to how well he’s ageing. He went for a check-up recently, one of those interminable insideand-out ones.
“You’ve got a few more miles yet,” the doctor said in summary.
“But surely there’s something seriously wrong that I don’t know about,” Humphries asked, aghast. “Nope,” the doctor said.
“But I thought to myself, ‘I better keep going then’. But then I thought, ‘What can I give the audience that I haven’t given them already?’”
His eyes light up with the answer. “My own life.” Barry Humphries: The Man Behind the Mask shows at The Star Saturday 7pm and Sunday 2pm. Tickets $75 from star.com.au
Barry Humphries will perform his latest one-man show at The Star this weekend.