“Coral Browne: This Fucking Lady” At 45 Downstairs

“She left behind an emptiness,

A gap, A void, a tough,

The world is quite a good deal less,

Since Coral Browne fucked off”

So said Barry Humphries at the funeral of Coral Browne in 1991. She’d died of breast cancer at the age of 77. Just how much of a good deal less the world was is just what audiences heading to Flinders Lane’s 45 Downstairs for the show run of “Coral Browne: This Fucking Lady” are going to find out.

When the stage and screen entered its first Golden Age in the early 1930’s, on both sides of the Atlantic, it became a quite literal breeding ground for the flamboyant von-vivant, the glorious queer, the outspoken jazz-age flapper and the shameless lothario. Thus came to prominence kings and queens of hotel-smashing, spouse-swapping, booze-guzzling decadence; Rex Harrison, Ava Gardner, Robert Newton, Elizabeth Taylor, John Barrymore, Trevor Howard, Joan Crawford Richard Burton, Bette Davis and the “wicked” woman by which all others shall be forever judged: Tallulah “Pure as the Driven Slush, Darling” Bankhead. But it wasn’t all fun and games in the darker corners of glitter Babylon, particularly if you happened to be held to the standards of a woman; Frances Farmer was institutionalized and eventually lobotomized for her free spirit, for one extreme example, while the talented likes of Jean Seaborg and Rachael Roberts were driven to suicide. It took toughness to be so dandy in such a conservative time.

You’d be forgiven to thinking perhaps an oddly named Australian woman, born in the industrial suburb of West Footscray in 1913, would rate amongst these glorious, if slightly unprofessional, camps. But then again, you’d be forgiven for not being too aware of Coral Browne. Despite the fact that she ruled the West End for a time, toured the world many times over, had a movie made about her encounter with a Russian spy and won two best actress BAFTAS, Australia, as it does with some of it’s finest luminaries, has all but forgotten her.

Genevieve Mooy - CORAL BROWNE TFL 3.JPG

Yet, she could quip with the very best of them. When informed that her former lover, Cecil Beaton, was gay, she quickly remarked “Not with me, darling. Like a rat up a drainpipe.” And though talent and skill played a minor role in what constituted a star in those days, Browne was not only good looking and charismatic, as were necessities, she was talented enough that she was able to penetrate the deeply xenophobic English stage long before the likes of a slightly sozzled Welshman and his two Irish counterparts turned up to “change West End forever”. Coral was a foreigner in a time when it was simply unheard of, and of all things, one hailing from the bastard child of John Bull’s days; ghastly Australia.

Genevieve Mooy - CORAL BROWNE TFL 2.JPG

Her story is not only being told, but colorfully and brilliantly played out by uncannily similar-looking Genevieve Mooy. In one lengthy soliloquy, she plays out her remarkable life, from troubled relationship with her mother to her autumn spent in loving bliss with second husband Vincent Price. Mooy is visibly nervous, but with relaxation over the coming season, she’s only going to improve on an already stellar performance. Not too much can be said without giving it away, but it’s elegant, dazzling and peppered with language befitting of “this fucking lady.”

Go see for yourself.

Reviw by Max Davine for Good Vibes Media 

Photo credit: Rob George

 

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