She is probably one of the most successful Australian actors you’ve never heard of – Coral Browne, a girl from Footscray who made it big on the West End, Hollywood and Broadway. I must admit, I initially thought Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady, currently playing at fortyfivedownstairs, was a work of fiction.
How wrong was I. Browne, had a notable career on the Melbourne stage, before departing to the Mother Country with just 50 pounds and a letter of introduction in her pocket, to become a popular figure on stage, in film and TV.
Some of her memorable performances included Aunty Mame, Charing Cross Road, The Killing of Sister George, Dreamchild, Xanadu, Travesties and An Englishman Abroad – which earned her a BAFTA award for Best Actress. She was a regular performer at London’s Savoy Theatre.
Known for her glamour, bawdy wit and voracious potty mouth, Browne was a larger than life character. With a care-free attitude to sex, she had a roll call of famous lovers (some she married) including Philip Pearman, Paul Robeson, Cecil Beaton, Maurice Chevalier and horror-movie icon Vincent Price.
Playwright and director, Maureen Sherlock has taken these attributes to deliver a sprightly production, peppered with anecdotes and backstage gossip, taking the audience on a 70 minute journey through the highs and lows of her colourful life.
Set in Browne’s Hollywood Hills home in the early 90s, the staging is simple, though functional, consisting of a chaise longue, a desk and a coat stand. A painting on a rear panel, doubles as a screen, highlighting key moments of Browne’s life.
With a level of joie de vivre, Genevieve Mooy gives a solid and convincing performance as Browne: from an eager 12 year old performing for the first time at the Ballarat Eisteddfod, to her many performance highlights where luck seemed to be on her side, through to her many liaisons and dysfunctional relationship with her mother.
The mood is always kept light, with plenty of one liners and the occasional well-timed expletive. Even in death (Browne died in 1991), she left her mark with Barry Humphries delivering a heart-felt tribute at her memorial service: “She left behind an emptiness/ A gap, a void, a trough/ The world is quite a good deal less/ Since Coral Browne f***ed off.”
Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 11 July 2018 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 22 July 2018
For more information, visit: www.coralbrowneplay.com for details.
Image: Genevieve Mooy as Coral Browne – photo by Rob George
Review: Rohan Shearn