by Lynn on April 14, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Dr. Barry Humphries AO CBE
Directed by Simon Phillips
Set by Brian Thomson
Costumes by Stephen Adnitt
Lighting by Aaron Spivey
Chorographed by Eve Prideaux
Musical director and Onstage Accompanist: Jonathan Tessero
Starring: Dame Edna (of course)
Ralph Coppola
Brooke Pascoe
Eve Prideaux
Amando Yearwood, Jr.

Dame Edna, a dear old friend from Down Under, descends on Toronto for one last time, spreading joy, poking fun, and dispensing dress and make-up tips.

Before Dame Edna Everage makes her stunning and noisy appearance, we watch an informative and hilarious video of her life. She started as a simple housewife from Melbourne, Australia but with the help of her Svengali, Barry Humphries, was transformed into the mega-star that she is today. We see how she went from being a modest, bespectacled woman, to one who never met a frock that was too ostentatious, a pair of eye-glasses that were too outrageous or a hair colour that was too mauve.

By the time Dame Edna appears we are practically beside ourselves with anticipation, at least I think that’s what was beside me. The show is billed as “a meditation on loss, gender, climate change, gay marriage and ethnicity.” I look forward to seeing that show should Dame Edna return once more. The show at the Princess of Wales theatre (until April 19) is not that show.

What it is is, a raucous, hilarious time in the theatre in which the audience knows what it’s getting and is up for the experience. People in the audience will be singled out to engage with Dame Edna about where they live, the kind of house they live in, the type of architecture and the colour of their bedroom walls. Pretty innocuous stuff, except for Dame Edna’s reactions to every answer; her pauses and looks to the audience in reaction to pieces of information. “Where is Newmarket?” she asks in all innocence, but with a look up to the balcony, with just a hint of disdain. The audience goes wild with laughter. Including the woman from Newmarket.

Interspersed with this are reminiscences of her life in Australia and her journey to mega-stardom; her sort of happy, long marriage to her late husband; her wayward children; and her devotion to her ‘possums’–her adoring audiences. There are also a few production numbers with her back up group of singer/dancers; a scientific experiment that pairs two strangers in the audience that are found to be the perfect match; and perhaps even a surprise or two.

At the matinee I recently attended, Dame Edna focused on a hapless man in the front row, piercing him with her hawk-like gaze, “Is my talking interfering with your texting” she asked, as she went right up to the edge of the stage and glowered down on him. The audience roared with horror and delight—horror at what he was caught doing; delight because they knew Dame Edna was going to shred him alive. “Come on,” she continued firmly, her hand out. “Give it to me.” She persisted in asking for his cell phone. He dutifully gave it to her. She gave it Jonathan Tessero, her accompanist and said to the hapless man, “You will never see it again.” (She lied). And then she continued with the show.

I have seen Dame Edna’s shows for years. Looking at them with a critical eye, they have a set formula that never wavers. She banters; she pits the deprived folks in the balcony who could not afford better seats, against the well off folks in the orchestra who obviously have the means; she berates all of them for being badly dressed as compared to the classy world of say, New York. She knows of Toronto’s notorious New York envy; she will pick four people from the audience, remember their names, refer to them all through the show and ask them generally the same question about their house, their decorating abilities, their private lives etc. Two people will be picked from the audience to come on stage on the pretext that they are perfect for each other and they couldn’t be more different. The humour borders on being mean. And at the end Dame Edna will throw gladiolas into the audience and she will be given a standing ovation. Why?

Simple, she’s brilliant. Dame Edna has taken this formulaic show and made it seem as if it is improvised, unscripted and unplanned. Her timing is impeccable. She shoots a look at the audience with a hint of revulsion and holds it just until the height of the laugh and then moves on for the next laugh. She lobs barbs in the most gracious of ringing tones and is hilarious.

She holds court, occasionally walking (in her heels) from one end of the stage to the other, in search of her next victim. I thought she was a bit slow in her movements this time around. She is getting on. I don’t doubt this is her farewell tour no matter how persuasive the stylish Barrie Humphries is—he’s getting on too. Pity.

See this vivacious, prickly woman before she leaves and be educated in comic timing. But sit at the front at your peril.

David Mirvish presents:

Run: April 9, 2015 to April 19, 2015
Cast: Dame Edna and her back-up group of two men and two women
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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