EXPECT the air to be filled with the dulcet tones of Melbourne’s most infamous housewife this autumn, when Dame Edna Everage begins a nationwide tour.
Entitled Last Night of the Poms, the tour will also mark the first time in 28 years that the mauve-haired one has toured with another of Australia’s most famous exports, the “diplomat and drunkard” Sir Les Patterson.
“Edna disapproves of Les and doesn’t want to speak to him, so they will not be appearing on stage at the same time,” says Barry Humphries tongue firmly in cheek.
Speaking from his home in Switzerland where he’s putting the final touches to a book following a 13-week tour of America, he admits he can’t wait to get going. Even the thought of appearing as both Sir Les and Dame Edna in one show doesn’t daunt him.
“It’s generally how I work. I work very fast and energetically still,” says the comedian who turned 75 this year. Humphries, along with long time friend, the conductor and composer Carl Davis, first wrote a parody on the Last Night of the Proms back in 1981 but it’s taken nearly three decades to find the opportunity to do the concert again.
“We were never in the same place at the same time but we’ve long thought we should take the tour to major cities in the United Kingdom,” he says, in a voice so calm and measured that at times you’re not sure whether he’s finished a sentence or just drawing breath.
Accompanying Humphries and Davis will be some of the UK’s finest orchestras and choirs.
“There are bus loads of us travelling over the country. Of course Edna wishes she’d bought the Edna-mobile so she could arrive in these cities in a spectacular fashion.”
The uncensored honesty of Dame Edna and Sir Les (aka cultural attaché to the Court of St James and chairperson of the Australian chapter of the International Cheese Board) has naturally attracted critics and fans over the years.
But as the comedian says, “For the most part, audiences delight in their candid humour”. Something, Humphries admits, he’s “never understood”.
“It’s a mystery to me why these two with whom I profoundly disagree should none the less give pleasure to people. Perhaps if Les was a little more polite I think people would think he’s very rude indeed but because he’s so rude everyone seems to forgive him. Don’t ask me how it works.”
While Sir Les was based on “a real Australian politician who liked a drink”, Dame Edna was based on a few people closer to home – his numerous aunties.
Humphries admits that it’s these larger than life creations that allow him greater creative freedom. “I don’t like being me,” he says candidly. “I just don’t find it very comfortable. I much prefer being heavily disguised and then I’m somehow less inhibited.”
One recent exception was his appearance as a judge on the TV show I’d Do Anything, which he agreed to do after a burst appendix left him in convalescence. In the show he joined Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and John Barrowman in a hunt for an unknown to play Nancy in a West End revival of Oliver!
One of the surviving members of the original West End show, Humphries later played Fagin on Broadway and again in the London Palladium ten years ago. “I know the show so well, I could walk on stage tonight and do it.”
But while he enjoyed his time on the TV show, he’s not welcoming a return any time soon. “I much prefer to work with a live audience on stage and that’s what I’m best at I think,” he says.
“Especially in these times, it’s nice to have a job, which actually makes people laugh and forget anxieties. That to me is a great privilege.”
Last Night of the Poms is at the Royal Albert Hall in London on September 15, 2009.