If there is nothing like a Dame, there is no Dame like Dame Edna. His creator Barry Humphries, now an improbable 79 years old, first created the Melbourne housewife who subsequently turned into a self-styled global superstar over 50 years ago, and she has made regular appearances in the West End ever since in theatres from the Piccadilly (where I saw her first in 1979), to Drury Lane, the Strand (now Novello) and Haymarket.
Now, however, Humphries has declared his intention to officially retire, and is allegedly on the West End stage for one last hurrah at the London Palladium -- a venue where I coincidentally last saw him take over as Fagin in Oliver! in 1997, a show in which he had played the undertaker Mr Sowerberry in its original 1960 London production.
I missed Edna's pantomime debut two Christmases ago at Wimbledon, but it proved that even now Humphries is still playing with form and not resting on his laurels of his trademark gladioli. Those gladdies, of course, still make an appearance here -- and happiness doesn't get much greater than to see an entire auditorium waving them after ushers hand them out for the grand finale of the show at the Palladium.
Before that, we get a bonus helping of Edna and her outsize supporting characters, not least the infamously revolting Sir Les Patterson, who sports an outsize appendage of his own in his trousers which he constantly calls attention to by adjusting regularly. Sir Les, formerly a cultural attache to the Australian Embassy, is reinventing himself as a master chef, and is preparing an onstage meal in between rushing to the onstage johnny to deal (loudly) with the diarrhea he is suffering from. But really Sir Les, with his gloriously inappropriate turn of phrase, is simply an excuse to say the unsayable. Rebekah Brooks and him go back a long way, he tells us, before informing us how he has been rumbled by the red hairs found in his toothbrush. (Yes, he actually said it).
The first act also brings a brand-new character in Sir Les's brother Gerard, who turns out to be a paedophile priest whose electronic tag keeps going off when he makes advances on the boyish-looking pianist, and regular character Sandy Stone, who brings a quieter, more pensive notes of mortality to the show.
But the second act, which is entirely owned by Dame Edna, makes you think of immortality. Certainly this is a character who is never going to die; for a few years now there has been a tribute act on the gay comedy circuit called the Dame Edna Experience, though its creator Jonathan Paul Hellyer himself retired earlier this year to move to America. Edna's brand of confessional comedy and gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) teasing of her audience never changes; but neither does the sharpness or lethal wit. Her show, she says, is like "an interaction between two people, one of whom is a lot more interesting than the other."
As she interrogates people in the front rows, she creates a kind of squirming comic heaven. "What was that before it was a dress?", she enquires of one woman about what she is wearing. Someone else tells her she is from Catford. "Are you in the right seat?", she replies.
Until January 5, any seat you can find for Humphries at the London Palladium will be the right seat. And if you unaccountably miss him here, he's on tour in the UK through to March 8 thereafter.
" ... sets the seal on a career that has shown exceptional staying power."
Dominic Cavendish for Daily Telegraph
"... a comedian who can hold a vast house such as the Palladium in his grip, and a social satirist with a gift for outrage."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"I almost asphyxiated myself with laughter."
Neil Norman for The Daily Express
"If Edna does retire to cultivate her gladioli back in Moonee Ponds this show is conclusive proof that there really is nothing like this Dame."
Bruce Dessau for The Evening Standard