JOY OF LIFE: Barry Humphries in the Civic Theatre, where he will open his new show on Saturday night. Pictures: Marina NeilAS he walks into the Civic Theatre, Barry Humphries’ attention is drawn not to the stage but the ornate interior.
“It’s very Los Angeles, quite a Spanish style,” he murmurs admiringly.
He may be one of Australia’s most celebrated cultural exports, the creator and inhabitantof Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson, a ferociously gifted comedian and a television talk show titan, but Barry Humphries’ observationsrevealhe has the eyes –and knowledge – of an art historian.Actually, he does paint as well.
The sum of those parts of the man has been shaped into a new stage show by Humphries.
Titled Barry Humphries: The Man Behind the Mask, the show, and elements of the performer’s extraordinary life,is revealed to an audience in Newcastle on Saturday night and Sunday, the first two performances of the tour.
“I like to open here, if I can,” he explains. “It helps you relax a bit.”
Humphries is aware there is another show in town on Saturday night, the A-League grand final between the Newcastle Jets and Melbourne Victory.
“It’s the other event,” he says, before pointing out he is wearing a tracksuit. A fashionable tracksuit: “I’m wearing Lululemon!”
PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST: The performer has called his new show, Barry Humphries: The Man Behind the Mask.
For his new show, Barry Humphries has had a lot of material to delve into. As the 84-year-old says with a hint of wonder, “I’m an octogenarian, you know!”.
On stage, therewill be no Dame Edna, no Sir Les –“there will be references to them, and a few clips”.Instead, Humphries himself will be in the spotlight, accompanied byaudio-visual pieces, a pianist, and a head full of stories.
“It’s a little daunting,” he admits. “I’m going to be as frank and fearless as I can be.
“But an Australian audience, I regard as a group of friends.”
Humphries remembers his first performance in Newcastle in the early 1960sat the university, at the invitation of Professor Brin Newton-John (“Olivia’s father”). He has also performed a few times in the Civic Theatre.
Barry Humphries in the Civic Theatre. Picture: Marina Neil
“I can picture the dressing room,” Humphriessays, as he peers into his mind’s eye. “But the way to the stage, I’ll have to learn again.”
Even after all the years of performing, and despite the way he can command an audience,Humphries confesses he still finds that journey to the stage to be one filled with fear.
“I suffer stage fright,” he says. “Before going on the stage, agony. I feel sick. But once I’m on the stage, I feel like –to use that nauseating modern phrase –I’m in my happy place.”
But as he sits in a plush seatand scansthe columns, the royal boxes overlooking the stage, and the ornamental dome in the ceiling, Barry Humphries looks comfortable, even at home, in here.
“Sometimes I’m in an auditorium,” he says.
“This is a theatre.”
Barry Humphries, performer