Coral Browne (fortyfivedownstairs) – theatre review

Sparkling wit, energy and enthusiasm characterise Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady!. Maureen Sherlock’s smart script showcases the colourful life of a girl raised in Melbourne’s West who went on to conquer the West End.

Now all but forgotten, BAFTA winner  Coral Browne wasn’t one to pull her punches. After Melbourne success, she took all before her in London. She appeared in big screen movies, usually as the scarlet woman, on television and in the theatre. Her BAFTA was for best television actress in 1984 for her role in An Englishman Abroad. Coral married twice, first to British actor Philip Pearman and later to American horror film icon Vincent Price.

This 70-minute production, directed by Sherlock, sees Genevieve Mooy play both Browne and her mother. It takes us chronologically through Browne’s highs and lows, mostly the former. Nothing Browne did ever seemed to satisfy her mother and that’s certainly highlighted.

She had an active sex life, often quite unapologetically with married men. Her string of lovers included Paul Robeson and Maurice Chevalier. She was also not averse to using blue language. In fact, the impression gained from this play is that she wore it as a badge of honour.

The setting is Browne’s house in the Hollywood Hills in 1990. The staging includes a screen showing photographs and newspaper clippings of Browne’s triumphs, coinciding with her patter.

Coral wasn’t backward in seeking publicity and recognition. Indeed, Barry Humphries paid tribute to her at her memorial service using the kind of colourful turn of phrase for which Browne was renowned. We hear his “A Chorale for Coral” as an epilogue. Browne would undoubtedly have been chuffed, for she lived a full and fruitful life.

Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady! Is playing at fortyfive downstairs until 22 July 2018.

Alex First

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