Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady

Coral Browne Adelaide Fringe 2017Adelaide Fringe. Prospect Productions. The GC At the German Club

 

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.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 23 Feb to 19 Mar

Where: The GC At the German Club

Bookings: adelaidefringe.com.au

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