Coral Browne: This F**king Lady (Brunswick Ballroom) – theatre review

Amanda Muggleton has the room in the palms of her hands as she assumes the role of actress and femme fatale Coral Browne (23rd July, 1913 – 29th May, 1991), who won the 1984 TV BAFTA for An Englishman Abroad. At just over an hour, this one person play, written by Maureen Sherlock, is the story of Melbourne-born Browne’s life as told through a series of often ribald and irreverent tales.

We learn she was born in West Footscray and that her mother was a snob, which Muggleton, as Coral, maintains probably led to her career. She undertook elocution lessons and proved to be adept, but her mum was never satisfied, rather inevitably finding fault. Acting wasn’t Coral’s first choice. She trained to be an artist, but fell into the profession while painting a set in a local theatre when one of the leads fell ill. Throughout her subsequent career she was often given the role of the slapper, floosie or scarlet woman.

Photos by David Parker

At age 18, Coral signed up with impresario JC Williamson and had 20 leading roles in three years. By way of reward, for her 21st birthday she was gifted a return passage to England and 50 pounds. Her mother went with her, but as Coral’s London theatrical career started to take off, her mum returned to Australia.

Coral’s sexual conquests read like a who’s who of some of the biggest names in the business. From Maurice Chevalier, Paul Robeson and Rex Harrison to Douglas Fairbanks Junior, Cecil Beaton and Jack Buchanan – she had them all. Many were married or between marriages. Clearly, Coral liked to have a good time. She herself tied the knot twice, once to homosexual Philip Pearman and then to Hollywood star Vincent Price. She also befriended notorious spy Guy Burgess.

Hers was a rich and colourful life. As Muggleton tells it, elocution or otherwise, Coral wasn’t afraid to liberally drop the F-bomb and could mix it with the best of them. She also knew how to dress with style and elegance. She enjoyed many choice theatrical West End roles in some of the finest venues before moving to the US after her second marriage.

Coral Browne’s life unfolds on stage with a number of choice one liners – some of which are real humdingers. She had a sharp wit. At the outset, her belongings are scattered across an armchair and strewn over a couple of large tables. Through the course of proceedings, she picks up and refers to several bits and pieces, which she gradually packs into a number of boxes, ready to donate to a Melbourne museum.

As she refers to some of those who entered her life and who were important to her, Muggleton, as Coral, flicks through a photo album. A number of pictures and film footage are shown on a large video screen at the back of the stage. Muggleton brings energy, sass and a sense of fun to Coral’s persona. She immediately endears herself to an appreciative audience. She assumes a variety of accents as she continues to spin yarns.

The play is verbiage dense – a lot is packed in there – and Muggleton maintains a continuous pace, as the role demands. I dare say there were some opening night nerves as the delivery wasn’t word perfect, but that hardly mattered for Muggleton and Carol Browne’s fulsome and fruitful life – one well lived – went down a treat. Directed by Nadia Tass, Coral Browne: This F**king Lady shocks and delights, as was its intention. It is playing at Brunswick Ballroom until 18th April, 2021.

Alex First

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