You’ll be forgiven if you can’t immediately recall the name Coral Browne, especially if you’re from the younger generation, but this legendary star of stage and screen was all the rage in London from the 1940’s onwards. Originally from Australia, she completely reinvented herself and eventually went on to marry Vincent Price, but not before leaving a string of lovers in her wake. She was also a master of the swear word, using it to great effect when she needed to shock or be noticed, hence the title of the play, Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady, playing selected dates at The King’s Head Theatre.
Maureen Sherlock’s meticulously researched play sees our Coral Browne recount her life from the position of packing up her belongings to be sent to a museum in Melbourne, the very same museum where Maureen Sherlock found a treasure trove of memories which would become this play. It flows very beautifully from Coral’s early life to her final days, but for the audience it passes in a flash as each anecdote and bawdy tale unfolds.
Given Coral Browne’s stature within the industry, it makes sense that it is another star of stage and screen who takes on the role. Amanda Muggleton, known to many UK fans for her role in Prisoner Cell Block H, but far better known for her stage work in Australia (just as Coral was better known in England for hers) is wonderful as our leading lady.
Amanda Muggleton is endlessly generous to her audience, as she explores Coral’s life it feels as if somehow the lady is in the room with us, it never feels like this is a script being read, but a conversation which we are very lucky to be included in. Even a few forgotten lines, the result of a very short rehearsal window, went unnoticed by the majority of the audience, who assumed it was just another part of Muggleton’s cleverly nuanced performance.
While it is easy to be wholly captivated by the performance, there are some nice touches in the staging. A television screen flashes posters and old photographs, as Coral reminisces and packs them in to another box. Photo albums and old letters are pulled out to be discussed and read, and while these are props, the contents being read out are real.
Coral Browne was indeed a character, in today’s language we would say with confidence that she had no filter, “If I had any more face-lifts, I would have a hairy chest” declares Browne in the most beautifully refined accent you can imagine, and that’s one of the less risqué comments. Some of these quips drew audible gasps from the audience, but on the whole they are presented in a funny and uproarious way.
A play which could easily command a much longer run, Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady is wonderfully written and performed, and an absolutely fascinating journey through the life of a legend. Anyone with even the slightest interest in theatre or film will be drawn in to the backstage gossip and salacious scandal. All while being charmed and enthralled by Amanda Muggleton, as she relives Browne’s naughtiest moments with a bright twinkle in her eye.