TA­BLES TURNED

Af­ter a ca­reer hold­ing up a mir­ror to Aus­tralia, leg­endary co­me­dian Barry Humphries now opts to ex­pose his own highs and lows to au­di­ences

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY - TRENT DAL­TON

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.

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