DAME EDNA EVERAGE
Barry Humphries did a one-person show at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, during January 1975. The show was entitled ‘At Least You Can Say You’ve Seen It!’, and was subtitled ‘A Tragi-Farce For Those Too Drunk To Dance’.
The confectionery company, Sweetacres, was a major sponsor of the show. Barry loved the old Australian larrikin trick of rolling lots of Sweetacres Jaffas (an orange-coated ball of chocolate) down the aisles of timber-floored cinemas during movie screenings. They would make a most disturbing racket as they bounced their way down to the bottom of the stage.
I was engaged to photograph Mr. Humphries in his guise as Dame Edna Everage, as an advertisement for Jaffas which would appear in the program for the show. He was there for a dress rehearsal, and I was able to shoot the pics in the dressing room, where he was just sitting down to do his make-up. It was quite an antiquated setting, with the standard set of light-globes surrounding the make-up mirror. Mr. Humphries, dressed in a very fine dark suit, was in high spirits, shouting loudly for his assistant as he revved himself up for the performance.
Using one hand, he briskly brushed a lot of powder off the mirror, and started to apply a beauty spot to his right cheek. What I was seeing was a truly classic theatrical picture, so I excitedly asked if I could shoot a picture. This could have been my masterpiece!
“Absolutely not!” he snapped. Nobody was ever to see the man in transition to his stage persona as Dame Edna. There was only either Barry Humphries, or there was Dame Edna.
I watched in total fascination at his transformation, climbing into a dress, carefully positioning the wig and hat, putting on the glittery gloves and ear-rings, then selecting some 1950s-style women’s spectacles from a large wicker basket containing hundreds of pairs.
“Right, all ready to go” he/she said, “Where do you want me?” I positioned a chair for him, then quickly set up my lighting gear (a 1,000 watt quartz lamp reflected out of a white umbrella), and, using a 35 mm camera on a tripod, shot off about 20 frames. He performed so professionally, pulling just the right faces and throwing in a couple of silly ones as he posed with the box of Jaffas. It was truly exciting to work with him.
A couple of nights later, my wife and I went to see the show. He was wonderfully, side-splittingly funny in his very black way. We left with our faces aching from so much laughter.