CORAL BROWNE: THIS F**KING LADY - MELBOURNE
CORAL BROWNE: THIS F**KING LADY, Prospect Productions at 45 Downstairs, Melbourne, 11-22 July 2018. Photography by Rob George: above and below - Genevieve Mooy
Coral Brown without an “e” was born in in 1913 in West Footscray before moving to Kew as a youngster (an aspirational mother). Coral delighted from an early age in doing the rounds of the Elocution Eisteddfods in a desperate bid to sound less Australian and more British – to please said mother. This led in an unremarkable way to roles with JC Williamson’s which ignited her passion to go to London and make it as an actress.
At the age of 20 and armed with her scrapbook and a letter from Dame Sybil Thorndyke to open doors she departed for the long boat trip to England. On her arrival her first port of call was to visit Thorndyke, where it became obvious the Dame hadn’t a clue who she was and Coral was told, unceremoniously, to return to the Antipodes.
Undeterred young Miss Brown stayed. She toughed it out, then a numerologist told her to put an “e” on Brown to help her get the break she needed, and the rest is history. Browne got a small part in a West End show and when the lead was unable to go on she got her break. Browne was larger than life with heavy doses of the Australian vernacular in readiness to shock. She was renowned for hilarious anecdotes and her potty mouth.
Browne had a long and distinguished career on stage, on screen and in the bedroom. She loved as heartily as she lived her life, preferring gay men to old white males, with a sprinkling of the lasses for good measure.
In this hour-long show, written and directed by Maureen Sherlock, Coral Browne’s story comes to life, with the audience a voyeur to her career, her love life and her intense dislike of her mother.
Genevieve Mooy is divine as Coral, she sparkles, and is every bit the flamboyant Grand Dame; we hang on every word for fear of missing one of the well written asides. There is a wonderful, hair-raising story of when she worked alongside Rosalind Russell as Vera Charles in Auntie Mame. The true story of Browne’s meeting with mega-spy Guy Burgess in Moscow – which became the film An Englishman Abroad, by Alan Bennett. And, the hilarious retelling of working with Susannah York in The Killing of Sister George – priceless. Browne returned to Australia twice, in 1948 and 1989 with her second husband and great love Vincent Price.
Biographies often painted Coral Browne as all froth and bubble with no substance and even slightly boring. This account, and with Mooy’s story-telling ability, Browne was anything but. Self-obsessed maybe, but not boring. I know her mother must have been a millstone, but I felt quite sorry for her. Recommended.