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How Now Mrs Brown Cow! (Tour - Manchester)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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As this is the fifth show for Brendan O'Carroll's creation Mrs Brown obviously has many fans - judging by the bellowing laughter from the audience, even before the curtain rose. However, I am at a loss to completely understand why.

O''Carroll is very clever at what he does, but the hard-swearing Catholic mother is not a new concept and has been done better. The premise of this fifth part of a trilogy is that Mrs Brown is eagerly awaiting the return of her son Trevor, who should be coming home for Christmas after four years away. What her family know, but she doesn't, is that Trevor is not coming.

The actors O'Carroll has around him are all solid performers. However, characters are stereotypical, from the overly effeminate gay son (Rory Cowan) in flashy outfits, to the put-upon flat-capped Grandad figure, played by Dermot O'Neill. The other two sons who are involved most in this plot are the 'good' son Mark (Pat Shields), hard-working and settled, and the lovable rogue Dermot (Paddy Houlihan), working but inclined to be led astray by his best mate Buster.

The script is cleverly written around O'Carroll's Mrs Brown and for the most part, the plot is centred around that character via the jokes and punchlines. The supporting characters are merely accessories to the narrative. The most naturally funny piece was where the actor playing Buster mixed up his lines and after much laughter and ribbing from O'Carroll in character, he starts again gaining a round of applause from the audience at getting it correct.

Our leading man is prone to ad-libbing the jokes as the show goes along, causing his actors to dissolve into laughter which often delays speeches. Funny the first time, it becomes one more obvious prank after a while though and starts to grate.

Two roles are ably covered by understudies, Mark's wife Mary by Emily Regan and Buster by an unnamed actor in only his second ever stage appearance.

At the end, O'Carroll makes several announcements, and you realise that the Mrs Brown stories are more than a theatre production – they are an O'Carroll family affair. Unfortunately, this closeness means that no-one stands back and really looks at what works and what does not. As stand-up, it would probably be funny; but ultimately it's a mishmash of theatre and stand-up that fails to be good at either.

- Helen Jones


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