Interview with… Maureen Sherlock

The writer and director chatted to Emma Clarendon about Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady! at the King’s Head Theatre.

Maureen Sherlock and Amanda Muggleton (Coral Browne).

Hi Maureen, for those who don’t know what is Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady! about? The play is a celebration of the life of the flamboyant Australian actor Coral Browne. Coral left Australia in the 1930s and became the queen of the West End stage as well as a regular leading lady with the Old Vic and the National from the 1940s to 1970s. She also starred in
some major movies, including Auntie Mame, The Killing of Sister George and An Englishman Abroad. In her heyday, she was not just a star of the London stage, but a force of nature in stitched-up postwar Britain.

How did the idea for the play come about? I kept stumbling across her name in biographies of different actors – Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Peter Finch. All have anecdotes about the ‘outrageous Australian actress Coral
Browne’ and I’d never heard of her! So thanks to the wonders of the internet I went searching for her – and what a larger-than-life character I discovered. I also discovered that her memorabilia had been donated to the Performing Arts Collection in Melbourne by her second husband Vincent Price. Little did I know how much of her life I would find packed
way into these unprepossessing cardboard boxes and how much she packed into her life. Photographs, videos, programs, letters from a who’s who of stage and screen luminaries, from her lovers, from Vincent Price, and from her demanding mother. The more I researched, the more I loved this outrageous, funny, liberated woman who was way ahead of her time.

What was it about Coral Browne that made you want to bring her story to the stage? Coral Browne’s story reads like a Girls Own Adventure, but with more swearing! Our plucky heroine leaves Australia with £50 in her pocket, stars in her eyes and driving ambition in her heart. Her adventures take her from understudy to star of the West End stage and Hollywood, mixing with theatrical royalty, conducting passionate affairs with her leading men, encountering a spy in Moscow, marrying a famous Hollywood star. With her flamboyance, her biting wit, her glamorous lifestyle, her hilarious ‘bon and four-letter mots!’ she was a one- off – and that’s a story worth telling.

How did you find the experience of creating a show about a real life personality? There is a huge sense of responsibility in creating a play about a real person and terror at the thought I haven’t got it right! While it was a delight to research Coral’s life, but also left me with the problem of condensing such a well-lived life into a mere seventy minutes of stage time. With so much material to choose from it was difficult to decide what to leave out!

What can audiences expect from the show? Audiences can expect a tour de force performance from Amanda Muggleton as Coral Browne. Amanda is best known here for her four-year stint in ‘Prisoner Cell Block H’ but she enjoys an award-winning career on the stage in Australia. Audiences will enjoy discovering the career of this flamboyant star of stage and screen, as well as her bawdy wit and liberated attitude to life. Coral Browne is proof that while good girls go to heaven, naughty girls go everywhere!

How are you feeling about bringing the show to the King’s Head Theatre? I’m over the moon to be bringing the show to the King’s Head Theatre. The sense of history associated with the venue is mind-boggling. It was Amanda Muggleton’s suggestion to pitch it to them because she performed there successfully a couple of years ago, and fortunately
for us they liked the idea. The intimacy of the venue is ideal for the play.

By Emma Clarendon

Coral Browne: This F***ing Lady! will play at the King’s Head Theatre from the 19th May until the 3rd June.

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