CORAL BROWNE: THIS F***ING LADY
A delightful, surprising show, superbly presented by Genevieve Mooy
I knew Coral Browne & was thrilled to learn more about this iconic Australian actress, whose wit, flair & naughtiness were legendary in Hollywood & London. Mooy skilfully weaves the Browne story, introducing vignettes of Coral’s mother, which heightens the pathos behind the crackle.
Jack Buchanan (one of Coral’s many lovers of both sexes) provides a haunting soundtrack.
I think it’s a “must see”.
DIANA SIMMONDS – STAGENOISE
CORAL BROWNE: THIS F**KING LADY, Prospect Productions at the Adelaide Fringe, in the Clubroom at the German Club.
Having just emerged from the hothouse of the main festival, trying to work out what to do on the Fringe is frankly, overwhelming (something like 1000 shows and events). The choice is bewildering, so when old friend and mega-star Miriam Margolyes barrelled into town (to do Peter and the Wolf with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra) she also said, “Let’s go and see this show about Coral Browne, darlings, I knew her you know.” So off we went to the German Club.
From West Footscray to the West End, Coral Browne was one of Australia’s most notable exports of the 20th century. Born into the genteel snobbery of an England fixated mother in 1913, young Coral fell into acting at 18 and into the arms of JC Williamson shortly thereafter. An early adopter of media, Coral’s headlines already filled a scrapbook by the time she sailed for Blighty, aged 20, with mother trailing along.
With a letter of praise from Dame Sybil Thorndyke to open doors, Coral was barely fazed when they remained shut. Dame Sybil didn’t remember her and advised her to go home, while impresarios weren’t impressed by the scrapbook of reviews. Naturally, it wasn’t long before she was on a stage and it was one of those bound for the West End.
In a one hour, one woman show, written by Maureen Sherlock, Coral Browne’s story is brought to sparkling life by Genevieve Mooy – who bears a remarkable resemblance to the Queen of Pottymouth. She has also finessed Browne’s hilarious penchant for lacing her every sentence with effs and blinds – in the most ladylike manner.
Browne (she added the E to plain old Brown after being advised by a numerologist that her lousy luck would change if she did – and it did) was a bad girl at a time when that was genuinely daring and her affairs were legion and ambisextrous. She had genuine loves with women and gay men as well as famously marrying and living happily ever after with the Emperor of Schlock Horror, Vincent Price.
With a few props and great charm, Mooy skips blithely through one of the more interesting and unlikely lives of 20th century showbiz. For instance, Browne virtually stole Auntie Mame from Rosalind Russell (who didn’t mind and there is also another hair raising story to go with that movie).
She appeared at the Old Vic and the National but favoured the commercial possibilities of the West End. She also appeared in some of the worst British movies ever made but had good roles in good films such as Dr Crippen, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone and The Ruling Class.
Browne was renowned for a sharp and often bawdily witty turn of phrase which, funnily enough, has never worked well on the page: biographies have been dutiful and dull in the main. Genevieve Mooy, however, makes it clear why Coral Browne was so funny and so shocking. The account she gives of the making of The Killing of Sister George is a delight, particularly when she describes the twiddling of Susannah York’s nipples.
Finally, of course, there is the late flowering of an up-and-down career with the true story of Browne’s meeting with mega-spy Guy Burgess in Moscow – made into the fabled An Englishman Abroad, a film by Alan Bennett. And the last chapter – Dennis Potter’s Dreamchild in which Browne played the 80-year-old Alice of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.
This F**king Lady is a surprise, even for those who either remember or know something of Coral Browne. In Mooy’s hands she turns out to be a woman of substance rather than the flibbertigibbet so many gossip and social columnists made of her. And of course, there’s “mummy” – what a frightful old bat, with or without the mink stole and hat (bought for her, like everything else, by her long suffering daughter).
Murray Bramwell – Daily Review
The story of Coral Browne has all the hallmarks of legend. Born in 1913 in Footscray in Melbourne she became a leading actor in the Australian theatre by the time she was seventeen. By the age of 21 she had emigrated to England with 50 quid, a letter of introduction from Dame Sybil Thorndike and her mother in tow.
In London she added an E to her surname and proceeded to make her way in the West End. She played opposite matinee idol, Jack Buchanan, one of the many loves in her life, began film acting in 1936, and, with money borrowed from her dentist, made a packet producing the first London production of The Man Who Came for Dinner in 1941.
This is a lively portrait of a remarkable woman and a slice of theatre history that is rich in incident and anecdote.
It is no wonder – and our good fortune – that playwright Maureen Sherlock saw the potential for her engaging and enlightening monologue, This F***ing Lady. Browne was a fabulous gossip, a prodigious and emancipated lover, and an unending source of “bon and four letter mots”. Her bisexual affairs and friendships were those of a free spirit, and her candour and salty epithets both terrifying and exhilarating.
Performed with impish vivacity by Genevieve Mooy, the portrait begins with Browne in 1984, at age 71, winning the BAFTA award for her performance as herself in Alan Bennett’s brilliant TV drama about the spy Guy Burgess, An Englishman Abroad.
Mooy captures Browne’s forensic wit, her carefree sexuality, and her deep commitment to the two men she married – Philip Pearman who died at 53, and Vincent Price, the grand guignol horror star whom she met on the set of Theatre of Blood and married in 1974. She also plays the role of Browne’s difficult and manipulative mother, who never acknowledged the achievements of her dutiful only child and peevishly undermined her until death at the age of 99.
This is a lively portrait of a remarkable woman and a slice of theatre history that is rich in incident and anecdote. Maureen Sherlock has vivdly reminded us about an Australian actress whose 60 years of fame were largely unknown in her own country.
Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady definitely deserves a life beyond the Fringe.
Samela Harris – The Barefoot Review
It is sad how some of the world’s colourful figures can fall into oblivion. Coral Browne was an outspoken and much-loved star in her day. While her career played out largely overseas, she found her way into her Australian homeland’s consciousness most particularly when she married the Hollywood star, Vincent Price. But, in her day, Coral Browne was definitely a beloved name in the theatre.
She could have stayed lost in time had it not been for Maureen Sherlock who has penned a bio monologue which zips through the outspoken star’s life, complete with the loathed critical mother who seemed determined to outlive her.
Genevieve Mooy has braved the task of embodying Browne and bringing Sherlock’s lively script to life for the Fringe.
The GC’s intimate surrounds work well for such a venture, albeit the venue should please ban noisy potato crisps from performance spaces. In its 6pm slot, noise from the adjoining restaurant does not seem to impact on the one-hander.
It’s a simple and effective set, designed by Rob George and Carol Yelland and representing Browne’s Hollywood Hills home in the 1990s. There’s a red chaise lounge, table, chair, hatstand and telephone with a painting on the wall which accommodates assorted slides of the star’s childhood, her many famous lovers, and various movie posters. There are also packing boxes and scrap books; the props which reference the fact that everything in the script has come from Browne archives boxed up in Melbourne and Adelaide.
From the hatstand, Mooy whisks headpieces which illustrate moments and, most significantly, create the costume for the scenes in which she becomes Browne’s dreaded mother. While mother is very Australian, Coral Browne’s accent, polished over the decades in the UK, is frightfully British. Mooy segues between the two with ease.
The script is dense and demanding, a tough call in the memory department and, by season’s end, Mooy should have it fully streamlined. But she is such an elegant pro that, even when calling for a line, she remains comfortably in character.
And she looks superb. Most courageously, she has aged up to play Browne looking back from the end of her career. She wears a stunning silvery top over loose black slacks and subtly bling shoes to reflect the glitter of the red carpet.
The show opens with Browne accepting her BAFTA award and then rolls back through the star-studded career on the London stage. Play after play, character after character, lover after lover, Mooy rattles through them at high speed, ensuring that a massive life’s work fits into the Fringe schedule’s one hour. The script is peppered with the bright wit characteristic of Maureen Sherlock’s works, the likes of Alzheimers the Musical and Ada and Elsie. While Browne was a funny woman in her own right, Sherlock has ensured enhanced entertainment value with just enough added gags.
It’s a fine actress onstage playing a fine actress and looking every bit the beautiful part.
The show is still being born and it promises to run in as a classic and classy bio piece which will have legs to play all over the country, and give the world the gift of a wonderful, vivid, provocative and fearless Australian artiste rediscovered.
BRIAN GODFREY – GLAM ADELAIDE
The Teutonic splendour of the Clubroom in the German Club has been transformed into a friendly theatre space with the addition of scaffolding, black curtains, speaker stacks and a minimal lighting rig. In this space tonight we spent an hour remembering – and loving – Coral Edith Browne (1913 – 1991), who was born and brought up in Footscray and died in a movie-star’s home in Los Angeles. It is odd that more Australians don’t know about her. It won’t be long before they do. Maureen Sherlock’s deft play-script, in the hands of Genevieve Mooy, brings Coral Browne to flamboyant life.
Coral Browne was adventurous, outrageous, sexually eclectic, open-hearted and potty-mouthed. She befriended celebrities and fellow-actors, both in British theatre and in the world of film. As the show starts, Browne is being presented with a BAFTA award for Best British Actress in 1984. She accepts the statuette, and her acceptance speech flows into a stream of anecdotes, reminiscences, jokes, insinuations and yarns. It’s wise, funny, disarmingly honest and immensely entertaining. The language is rich and splendidly Anglo-Saxon. It feels as if we are having an intimate chat with a master-raconteur. Although names of the famous are dropped willy-nilly, it never feels like Spot-the-Celeb. Coral’s pragmatic, self-deprecating style never lets it get anything less than sparklingly funny.
Maureen Sherlock has written a one-woman tour-de-force for Mooy, whose fine acting skills are evident throughout. She is physically and vocally perfect as a nervous 12-year-old, doing her elocution performance at the Ballarat Eisteddfod; she is equally spot-on when, with the addition of a ratty fur stole and dreadful toque, she becomes Coral’s 99-year-old miserable malcontent of a mother. Mooy does the whole show in a well-cut sparkly jacket, a double row of pearls, neat black pants, and exquisitely styled pale grey hair. Hats are added when needed for extra characters. It’s an old device, but Sherlock and Mooy ensure that it serves the story as unobtrusively as possible.
On the back wall of the stage, a TV monitor sits, looking much like a painting on the wall of a living room until it begins to show playbills, photos, footage and captions appropriate to the part of Browne’s life story that Genevieve Mooy is recounting. The scholarship behind the writing of this piece is remarkable. PhD’s have been awarded for less research. While acknowledging the excellence of the research and the graceful style of the writing, the mainstay of this production is its immense entertainment value. See this, honour original Australian theatre writing and performance, and raise a glass to Coral Browne, a great f***ing lady.