One Man Show: The Stages of Barry Humphries
ABC Books, $35 pb, 454 pp
On those twin Titans of the twentieth-century English stage, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, fellow-actor Simon Callow recently reflected: ‘We tell stories about them … because they filtered life through the medium of their souls to create new and rich variations on the human condition: they lived their art to the fullest extent possible. Of whom shall we be telling stories now?’
There is certainly one candidate still among us who could match, even exceed, those qualifications for legendary status. Stories about Barry Humphries and his outrageous pranks started to circulate from his student days in the 1950s and before he ever took to the professional stage. As an actor, he was soon creating, as well as performing, stories of the ‘human condition’ through various characters entirely of his own invention. In a far more concerted – and disconcerting – fashion than other actors, than other producers of stories in whatever genre, Humphries has continued to this day to unsettle any distinctions between his art and his life, his characters and his character, his stories of others and the story of himself.