Sad to report. but the written word simply cannot do justice to the fruity tones ofDame Edna Everage. housewife superstar and standard bearer for the respectable side of Australian life. No one. for instance. can say the work ‘spooky‘ quite like Edna. The way it oozes out is in itself enough to produce a frisson of aural pleasure.
Today that voice is casting pearls of wisdom before the assorted swine of the press. summoned for an audience in the opulence of the Dorchester Hotel to hear about the plans to tour Back Wit/1A Vengeance — the show that sold out for nine months in London and has already assaulted Glasgow.
It‘s no surprise that everyone knows Back With A Vengeance as the Dame Edna show. After her recent chat show The Dame Edna Experience where she pinned name tags on to the likes ofCharlton Heston. she who calls herself ‘Australian royalty‘ is even more of a household name than ever. Just look at the show‘s audiences. Many of them middle-aged. middle-class women. Nice. respectable people. just like Edna. These are the people that interest her— she wants to know about their lives. about their husbands. about how they have decorated their bedrooms. And she will invite a lucky few up onstage for her very own chat show.
‘It‘s a simple show.‘ says the phenomenon herself. just back from opening Harrods sale (‘you can be laden down with green and gold Harrods bags and still have tears rolling down your chops.‘ she dispenses in passing). ‘It‘s just a conversation.‘ she says. modest as ever. ‘I never give a stale show. I wouldn‘t insult the audience. I would like them to think I enjoyed it as much as they did — which is true. I don‘t need to do it. I don‘t need the money.‘
What drives Dame Edna. then. if not lucre? ‘I‘m a people-a-holic.‘ she says tangily. with an ever-so-slight toss of the head. And what sort of folk in the audience does she feel drawn to? ‘Shy people.‘ she says emphatically. ‘When I see someone dressed up in the audience longing to be involved. forget it! I don‘t even notice them. But ifi see someone trying to hide. I pluck them out. . . l have a sort ofshy detector.‘
Indeed she does have a knack of picking on the most shrinking of violets. The sight of a bunch of them crammed in with Dame Edna on her too-small sofa. all sipping pink champagne and dressed up in carnival fancy dress. is hilarious to behold. Especially for the first five minutes. when for once she shuts that crocodile‘s mouth and simply watches. How they squirm.
Edna is aware of her power over an audience. Acute self-analyst that she is, though, she knows it‘s a healing power. Her shows — or as she calls them her ‘sharings' - are cathartic: ‘I can turn their terror into something positive . . .They‘re nervous at first. because many ofthem have not only
not been on a stage before. they‘ve hardly been in a theatre. They‘re telly watchers. a lot of them. They come on stage trembling. and as they leave they clutch me with gratitude. I feel their little fingers digging into my arm. the women pressing their faces against me with gratitude.‘
A Dame Edna show is an act of exorcism. her guests leave the stage somehow purged of their angst. clutching their gladioli. their polaroids ofthe event. and their little pressies. ‘Here‘s some Shake ‘n‘ Vac. darling.‘ proffers Edna. pausing only to sneer at the smiling woman‘s perm — ‘for your hair.‘ The woman continues to smile beatifically. Another convert.
Dame Edna is keen to expand on this almost religious aspect to her ‘sharings.‘ ‘Most people. she says. carry around a terrible burden of guilt and anxiety that they don‘t need to carry around at all. They get up in the morning. rush out of the house. then a second later they rush back as though they‘ve forgotten something. ‘They open the wardrobe and then they take out an invisible haversack ofguill. put it on their back. and
stagger out into the world for another day. burdened with this totally unnecessary load ofquite extraneous worry. You see them! Slightly round-shouldered as though they are carrying an invisible burden. And I can see them from the stage. you know. straightening up!‘
Dame Edna does not deny she may
have healing powers. ‘I may. but I don‘t want to use that as a selling point. On the other hand. honestly. cripples take up more than one seat sometimes. and you don‘t want arguments. I‘m not guaranteeing cures. What a foolish — and vain — woman I would be if] did.‘
In such an exceptional woman. however. humility is almost impossible. ‘You know. Mother Teresa come to my show the other night. She was sitting there in the stalls. I thought ‘that‘s 'I‘ess isn‘t it‘.". And she said afterwards that she came out feeling a better person.‘
Dame Edna refers to Barry Humphries as ‘my impresario and manager.‘ I press her further on the precise nature of their relationship. What follows must raise some serious doubts about the state of Mr
Humphries‘ mental health: ‘Oh. he‘s an enigmatic man. He gives himself airs. He‘s a moody type of a person. One minute he‘s very nice. next minute — distant. snappy. almost childish.‘ The insults follows thick and fast. ‘Insecure and unstable.‘ ‘very low self-esteem.‘ ‘Frankly.‘ she sneers. ‘if he tried to do a one-man show on his own it wouldn‘t even get to Glasgow to be panned. Oh. he‘s not a bit liked in Australia. because he promotes that Les Patterson. it was his idea to put that drunk on the stage. ‘Just because Les Patterson is actually rather more refined than real Australian politicians is beside the point — Barry should not be showing this aspect of Australian life abroad. It will ruin our tourist industry. Everything Paul Hogan and Rolf Harris have done is being undone by Barry Humphries. I feel very strongly about this. I‘m sorry.‘
Dame Edna is thinking of being photographed with her impresario to scotch rumours that they are one and the same person. ‘As if] would dress up as a male! I mean that‘s called transvestism. isn‘t it? What a sick suggestion that is!‘
The Lis4 - 27 October 1988 7