Review: Trouser-Wearing Characters

LAURIE ATKINSON
Last updated 16:19 21/02/2013

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Trouser-Wearing Characters, by Rose Collis

The Fringe Bar, until February 23

English historian, author and performer Rose Collis starts her part stand-up/part history lesson, Trouser-Wearing Characters , with the song ''Masculine Women, Feminine Men, which is the rooster which is the hen?' She accompanies herself on one of her two banjoleles which are named Alvin and Bud. 


On either side of her on the tiny stage are large portraits of her main subjects: journalist, broadcaster, author Nancy Spain, the Australian-born actress Coral Browne, cabaret artist and pantomime dame Douglas Byng and the notorious 'Colonel' Victor Barker (aka Valerie L A Smith). Other luminaries such as Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, and Vincent Price make brief appearances. 

Rose Collis has written biographies of Spain and Barker so she knows her subjects well. Her hour-long stage show is a string of mostly amusing anecdotes about them and it is also, to use the current jargon, a celebration of the lives of these masculine women and feminine man. 

They are a fascinating lot but no attempt is made to go any further than tell some amusing stories about their 'scandalous' lives, which today no longer seem scandalous. Yet they all must have faced hostility of some sort, particularly Barker who went to prison when he was exposed as a woman and had falsified the marriage certificate when he married Elfrida Howard. 

The anecdotes are amusing but she omits to mention Browne's most quoted comment about a production of Oedipus by Peter Brook, and though she mentions Spain crossed swords with Evelyn Waugh she doesn't mention what it was about. I don't believe either of them didn't have something pithy to say about it. 

Singing is not Collis' forte. She forces her way through Boys in the Backroom but without any of the suggestiveness that Dietrich brought to it, and a recording of Jack Buchannan singing Who? in the background  might have been a wiser choice than going it alone. However, Those Were the Days, My Friend was a successful piece of audience participation.

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