Walking into fortyfivedownstairs on opening night I had very limited knowledge regarding “who the f*** Coral Browne [was]”. However, upon exiting, I felt as intimately close with her as you would that auntie you love, if only because she gets drunk and says what everyone is thinking at family gatherings…
Maureen Sherlock’s ‘Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady’ is as hilarious as it is informative, a semi-biographical story narrated by Coral herself—expertly portrayed by Genevieve Mooy—at an engagement with what appeared to be her final audience. Sherlock, who not only wrote the text but also served as director, and Mooy, delivered an incredibly engaging piece of theatre that was easy to follow in its conversational manner. Despite this, it never dipped in pace or life as Mooy navigated through Coral’s life story on her own for the best part of 70 minutes.
In pulling together the story of Coral Browne, Sherlock treated the source material with care while never failing to include all the personality quirks that make Coral so interesting. In short, Coral was a West Footscray girl with all the typical Australian social graces, who eventually went on to become a somewhat successful West End star who was always more famous on our shores than the foreign ones where she worked. Browne’s personality was infectious, and it absolutely blows my mind that Coral wasn’t as well known as she deserves to be.
Genevieve Mooy as Coral Browne could not have been a more fitting choice. A NIDA graduate with an extensive career in the ‘business’, Genevieve was able to draw upon her own experiences, similar to Coral’s, to flesh out the character expertly. It is clear Mooy has a talent for sharp-tongued comedy, as she knew exactly how to deliver her many quips and digs, often pointed at well known celebrities, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats before she continued to shock them.
Mooy not only played Coral, but at times adopted a piece of costume and a new persona as she mocked those she worked with. She also gave an outrageously funny performance of her overbearing mother which continued throughout the show and was a highlight for all. Mooy should be celebrated for what I believe to be one of the finest female performances I’m yet to witness. By her third curtain call I can confidently say the audience felt similarly.
The set gave the effect of a rather classy hotel suite, which made sense, as Coral would not have been one to set up roots in a proper household — life was too fast for all that. A chaise lounge provided a perfect spot for Mooy to perch herself upon and reenact the filming of a lesbian sex scene, which Coral was much more into than her onscreen lover. A desk opposite held letters from her mother and was in a state of disarray, much like her mind, and the whole set was littered with artefacts that made up the high and low points of her life, and could be called upon to help carry along the story. A television screen effectively showed stills from Coral’s career to provide context for the stories she told, and in a nice touch, displayed an abstract painting of the West End as its neutral state.
At 22 years old myself, I can quite comfortably say I had little existing knowledge of Coral Browne, but after seeing this performance it makes me wish I’d known about her long ago. Telling her story is important, and introducing it to a new generation is even more so. After all, we live in an age where we’re more obsessed with the international celebrity, yet there are so many people to treasure from our own country, which Sherlock has so expertly illustrated with Coral Browne’s intriguing story.
‘Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady’ is playing for a limited season until July 22nd at fortyfivedownstairs. To book tickets head to fortyfivedownstairs.com
Written by Lachie McFarlane