RAW: John Waters – Her Majesty’s – 4K

The ‘Pope of Trash’, John Waters walked onto the stage at Her Majesty’s last night dressed in grey slacks, goldish satin jacket, a red tie and sneakers. His stage featured just a large vase of red roses on one side and a small table with water on the other.

Given the bizarre nature of his films, his audience (apart from an impressive Divine impersonator) was remarkably homogeneous – middle aged, middle class lovers of fun with a slightly weird twist.

The Waters show was simply a stand up comedy act. After a jittery start Waters got into stride and his stories about his films were both very funny and illuminating. From pigs to bears to the battles with censors, on it went at rat-a-tat pace. His Q&A perhaps gave the best insights into the man – there was nothing funny much, he thought, about Sarah Palin but watching people get off planes was a source of constant amusement. There are no taboos left, at least not worth taking on, perhaps having Divine play Jackie Kennedy in a parody of his assassination only two years after the events was a mistake.

To summarise the man try this. ‘There are no good radicals today. The best of them sit at their computers working out how to hack American Express. But there is no fashion involved. You can’t have a movement without fashion. Look at these guys and the only fashion is maybe bad posture.’

It is hard to properly categorise Waters. The best I can do (and at severe risk of a defamation law suit or action under the Racial Discrimination Act for causing offence) is to compare him to our own Barry Humphries – whereas Barry’s twist is cross dressing, for Waters its being gay.

But both are of about the same age (Waters is 65) and both relish the oddities of very normal suburban lives; Humphries in Melbourne and Waters in Baltimore. Both come from very straight laced middle class families and upbringings that showed to each (and in abundance) the absurdities of those worlds – when fashion becomes kitsch (but the wearers don’t notice it), when filth is actually funny and while the jocks peak at 20, the artists are just starting to warm up.

Their targets are the sensibilities of ‘decent’ society and the wardens whose jobs are to protect those mores from attack. But as his dress choice showed, on the face of it he is no radical, he needs no props to be bizarre for this is an intellectual game rooted in observation and not affectation.

Both also have an enduring love of their audience and perhaps in Waters’ case some residual shock that his take on the world has been so remarkably successful and ground breaking.

Waters also has sought to champion the down trodden and rejected; his long association with Divine being evidence of that. Smoking pot may have helped get the films done but at the end of it all the joke was on those who didn’t get it and, together with those who did, they loved it.

Like Humphries, Waters is a treasure and any lover of midnight / off the wall cinema of whatever age ought to take him in. It was a pity so few current students were in attendance, no doubt wholly influenced by the ticket price (at $75) but perhaps on his next visit, Waters could manage some deep concessions for them – it can’t be all about the money still – for the next generation who see the mainstream Hairspray the Musical may also wish to delve back to when this stuff was, well, frankly, disgusting.

Great show and great fun.

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