Monday, August 23, 2010

(No.109) How Now Mrs. Brown Cow!

In Saturday's Globe and Mail (Aug.21) columnist Christie Blatchford , writing about politically incorrect Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford, commented on those Torontonians for whom a favourable comment about him would make their "heads [to] explode. Certainly, if they live downtown [in Toronto] and are of the gentle arty or intellectual stripe ... and assume that this is indeed the norm and that all others are suburban knobs ...."

I thought of that comment when, in the same issue of that newspaper, I read the review by Globe theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruk, of the Irish stage farce How Now Mrs. Brown Cow. He could hardly wait to pan the comedy that elicited what apparently seemed to him an unsophisticated audience's "giggles" and to advise the cultured to "run" in a direction away from the Canon Theatre where Mrs. Brown is playing. How precious and discerning of Mr. Nestruk.

Most of the theatrical reviews Pat and I prepare are based on seeing plays before reviews from the major dailies appear. On this occasion we saw Mrs. Brown the evening of the day the Globe's review appeared. Hence the inevitable comparison of our experience with that of the Globe's critic.

Mrs. Agnes Brown is a Dublin widow with several adult sons and one daughter. They are mainly 'under-achievers'. As a character Mrs. Brown has become the centrepiece of an entertainment mini-industry of which 5 plays (this is the 5th) form only a part. Mrs. Brown's creator, writer, director and (in drag) performer is Irishman Brendan O'Carroll -- and funny he is as the foul-mouthed Mrs. Brown.

We had never heard of the Mrs. Brown character or any of its various entertainment manifestations. The play can most easily be likened to British-style comedy in the vein of On The Buses and Are You Being Served? with more than a touch of Monty Python's Flying Circus but without the restraints English televison of that era imposed on the use of coarse language as a central part of the comedy.

The Mrs. Brown character which O'Carroll plays so effectively apparently has a large and enthusiastic following in Ireland and the U.K. and elsewhere, not just on the stage, television and even movies but on YouTube and Twitter. Certainly most of the audience of which we were members in the Canon Theatre seemed familiar with the characters and clearly anticipated the laughs in the comedy they had come to enjoy. The audience enjoyed the show tremendously, almost like members of a large family come together for a common experience.

Pat and I cannot remember an evening in the theatre anywhere when we have heard such continuous laughter (nothing so low key as the "giggles" Mr. Nestruk reported). We laughed too -- a lot. If you enjoy this sort of British-style comedy you could not have a jollier evening at the theatre.

There was nothing partial or half-hearted about the standing ovation for the cast at the conclusion of the evening.


How Now Mrs. Brown Cow! is at the Canon Theatre in Toronto through Sept. 4 .

Tickets can be purchased online at or by telephone at 800-461-3333. Seats range in price from $25 -$75.


Alastair Rickard