Peter Quilter’s new comedy takes as its subject the fascinating Australian actress Coral Browne. Coral was born and raised in Footscray until she left for London at age 21. The play which is elegantly directed by Alice Bishop is a series of patchwork moments that encapsulate the wit of Coral Browne but also make for at times a sporadic experience. Most of the play is focused on Coral in her latter life with Vincent Price (hence the title), with whom she had a deep and loving relationship, but one that was fostered late in both of their lives.
The play’s strongest moments come from the camaraderie between Coral (Heather Lythe) and Vincent (Grant Smith) which shapes much of the humour and forms the backbone for the rest of the play. The supporting cast (Michael F Cahill, Jo Gill and Chris Broadstock) play a variety of roles that help to illustrate the different worlds and lives Coral Browne inhabited. Michael F Cahill is excellent as Leslie Browne (Coral’s father) and as over eager security guard. Chris Broadstock is particularly good as a Chauffeur drawn into Coral and Vincent’s odd world and Jo Gill shines as young Coral and as an overly nervous Susannah York, but her Joan Rivers beggars’ belief.
If there is a fault with Mrs Vincent Price it is in the burden that the two leads have in trying to live up to their respective real world counterparts. Grant Smith does a passable impression of Vincent Price but occasionally he lapses into camp and sounds more like Liberace than Vincent Price. This is made doubly difficult because of the fact that Vincent Price had such a unique voice and any mimicry can only be a pale imitation of the real thing, even though Smith tries hard.
For Heather Lythe this issue becomes how to make the wit and words of a unique personality such as Coral Browne her own. At time’s Lythe’s performance feels like a recitation of Browne’s best witticisms but it lacks conviction and belief which makes some of the one-liners come off like someone trying to retell a joke they once overheard. This is not to say that the two leads are not good at what they do, it’s just that at times they are let down by the script which overstates and doesn’t give the audience time to think for themselves.
The set and lighting design like the direction are elegant and seem in keeping with the period they’re trying to recreate. Ultimately Mrs Vincent Price is a show that will grow as the performers take full hold of their material and should be seen by those who enjoy the glamour of the Golden Years of Hollywood and the English stage. But most importantly it should be seen to celebrate the wit and vibrancy of a performer who never lost her sense of humour nor her ability to deflate/puncture the hubris of others. In that Coral Browne, Mrs Vincent Price, remains definitively Australia.
La Mama presents
Mrs Vincent Price
by Peter Quilter
Directed by Alice Bishop
Venue: La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street Carlton
Dates: Feb 10 – Feb 27
Times: Wed, Sun 6:30pm | Thu, Fri, Sat 8:00pm
Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Concession