Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year, Possums!

I suppose it's inevitable that after the festivities and distractions of the last few weeks - the race through Christmas toward the new year - that there might be something of a lull this first weekend of January. Well, I can't think of a more bracing tonic for the post-holiday blues than a while spent in the high-wire company of everybody's favorite Housewife Megastar.

I was particularly delighted to find this particular episode of the Dame's epochal talk show The Dame Edna Experience, as it figures large in one of my favorite memories.  I first saw it, you see, when it first aired, in December of 1989.  I was on my first extended trip overseas, in London as part of a vast and rather overwhelming theatrical project - a multimedia extravaganza, really - that was also my introduction to the Great Wide World of the Great and Good.

I truly count myself ridiculously lucky to have had this part of my life, even if it did for many years badly skew my expectations of international travel.  It was a surprise, when things got back to normal or what passes for it, to learn that not everybody camps for six weeks at the Savoy on their first trip to the UK, and when I first returned there with my pal The Colorblind Architectural Historian some years later, our accommodations - a Polish-run guesthouse in the further reaches of South Kensington - came as (to understate the case) something of a change.

Now, this project, of which I was a very small part, running about backstage with new versions of scripts and otherwise making myself useful, involved a live performance, with orchestra, stars, and chorus; a live recording to be released on that miraculous new technology, CDs; and a film. In perfect circumstances it would have been a daunting sort of production, but December of 1989 threw up any number of little hurdles, ranging from vast and sweeping political changes across Europe to (and this where we start to hone in on my onetime television-viewing habits) a 'flu epidemic that if not quite on the scale of 1918, was nonetheless a real bother, taking it out at various points our lead soprano, our comedy baritone, a great many choristers, and, eventually... me.

Now, I have to have to say that if you have to be ill while traveling, there are a great many (as I've learned on several occasions in the decades since), a very great many worse places to be so than the Savoy in London, particularly when you are a member of the extended retinue of one of the establishment's more esteemed longtime guests.  Both I and another of the administrative troupe had been declared officially unable to stir for an entire weekend, and he and I whiled away the hours, in our neighboring rooms, coming up with ways to enliven what might otherwise have been a comparatively dull stretch.

Long, relaxing baths in the hotel's vast blue-tiled bathtubs helped make things pleasanter, as did tempting offerings from the hotel's endlessly accommodating kitchens. We had reached the point of really trying to stretch the place's legendary capacity for hospitality, and we decided we had very nearly reached the limits of the possible when, on Sunday evening, we simultaneously placed orders for, to one room, four goosedown pillows and a tureen of duck consommé, and to the other, four eiderdown duck pillows and a tureen of goose consommé. How we came up with that pairing is lost to time (I blame the uncommonly strong  'flu medicine), but that is how I found myself, one cold December night, propped up in the great, white-linened bed, reclining on some incomparably lovely pillows, a heavy silver tray on my lap, watching television and deciding that I really must be hallucinating.

Now Dame Edna, I'd heard of, but only at second-hand or so, as an enthusiasm of the Aussies who lived in my college dorm a few years earlier. We were so much less aware of things outside our immediate ken in those dark, pre-cyber days, and it wasn't for two more years that Melbourne's mauve-tressed darling broke through to American audiences in the successor to her Experience, Dame Edna's Hollywood.  Yet here she was, the doyenne of a truly surreal spectacle featuring, especially in this edition, a jaw-droppingly diverse crowd of special guests and what can only be described as a closing act for the ages.  I was entranced, and it wasn't just the codeine-laced syrups or the - astonishingly excellent - soup.

So it was great fun to run across this little YouTube treasure this morning, and if I watched it while on the treadmill in Our Little Condo's rather dank basement gymnasium rather than in the splendor of a hotel room on the Thames, it still delivers as a hallucinatory entertainment.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I - and do stay for the end. It's worth it.


  1. i just love when all the hell is behind us.

  2. Odeargod. And what a good sport Lauren Bacall seems to be.

    1. Unlike some of her coevals, she was a great deal more affable than legend would have it. And what I love about the close is that in it you get a far better idea of what a charismatic performer she could be than you do, for example, in most of the available Applause clips - this is what the people were paying for!