ONE woman’s year-long spiritual journey across Italy, India and Indonesia was the central premise in the 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love by author Elizabeth Gilbert. In 2010 the story was immortalised on the big screen, starring Academy Award winning actress Julia Roberts. And now it’s been brought to life on stage in Eat, Pray Laugh; Barry Humphries Farewell Tour.
The similarities between the book and the live show are uncanny.
The ‘Eat’ in Eat, Pray, Love traces Gilbert’s culinary travels through Italy. In the stage version, the lewd and crude diplomat turned master-chef Sir Les Patterson whips up some authentic Australian tucker; rissoles. Telling the audience sexist, racist and politically incorrect jokes his humour is as unsanitary, as his cooking. Suffering from chronic diarrhoea, Les farts, and rushes to relieve himself in the not-so-sound-proof loo. And then returns to cooking, without washing his hands. “Since when did diarrhoea interfere with gourmet cooking?” he asks. With the help of The Condiments, four back-up dancers, Patterson mixes the meat with different spices, not forgetting his secret and signature ingredient: creamy saliva.
The book version of ‘Pray’ sees Gilbert spend three months finding her spirituality in India. The ‘Pray’ on stage introduces the audience to Father Gerard Patterson (Les’ brother), a catholic priest with a correctional ankle bracelet. He proudly declares “he’s touched everyone he has ever met”, as he expresses a particular interest in the young male Asian pianist (Nick Len). His brother Les had described him as a “Vagina Decliner”. With the help of a few audience members Father Gerard conducts a seance on stage.
Following a dance sequence, the audience are transported from the Aussie backyard to the depths of purgatory, where the deceased Sandy Stone sits and delivers a monologue about life before ascending to heaven on a white cloud. This rather grey section offers a nice balance to the brighter colours of Patterson; an opportunity to relax the jaw from laughing before the second act.
And just as Gilbert finds ‘Love’ in the form of a Brazilian businessman while holidaying in Bali, Dame Edna Everage in a sari inspired gown coincidently finds the ‘one’ in the form of a young Balinese boy. Following an ‘E True Hollywood Story’ style intro, the Dame herself enters the stage on an elephant. She has been at an ashram with the Dalai Lama, who Edna calls ‘Darl’, and has rediscovered a love for herself. Unfortunately she has not discovered much love for those seated in the front rows, and even less so for those seated in the gods. With her tough love approach, Edna reassures her victims she does not pick on people rather she “empowers” them. “I tell it like it is,” Edna claims as she insults their wardrobes, where they’re from, and their jobs. It’s Edna at her best, and most charming. And this is what audiences will miss most, as Barry Humphries calls it a day after more than half a century in the business.
Read our interview with Barry Humphries here.
The finale is quite spectacular, and as the man behind the legendary characters takes his final bow, you can’t help but feel thankful for all the laughs. This show is captured most fittingly by Dame Edna who describes it just like a conversation between two people, “where one is more interesting than the other.”
Eat Pray Laugh! — Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour is on at the London Palladium, 8 Argyle Street, London W1F 7TF. For tickets and more information vist www.dameednafarewell.com.