TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland

15/02/2013 - 18/02/2013

Fringe Bar, Cnr Cuba & Vivian, Wellington

20/02/2013 - 23/02/2013

Auckland Fringe 2013

NZ Fringe Festival 2013

Production Details


Celebrated British biographer and performer Rose Collis unbuttons her critically-acclaimed Trouser-Wearing Characters show (Brighton Fringe Festival 2012) at the AUCKLAND FRINGE then NZ FRINGE (Wellington) this February (see below).

This unique show mixes music, history and performance engaging us with Rose’s favourite cross-dressing, bygone characters.  It skilfully combines stories, vignettes and songs about these eclectic, historical figures from 50’s media star Nancy Spain (a trouser-wearing character) to masquerader ‘Colonel’ Victor Barker (aka Valerie L A Smith), cabaret legend Douglas Byng, to the ‘F***ing Lady’ herself, actress Coral Browne.

Collis has lived and worked in Brighton, Britain since 1975 and is an award winning writer, alternative historian and performer (theatre, musician, singer/songwriter). She is excited to bring her show down-under in what will be its’ Australasian premiere.

There are also ‘cameo’ appearances by the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Noel Coward and Vincent Price while naturally Rose’s veteran banjoleles ‘Alvin’ and ‘Bud’ musically accompany her in this fascinating one-woman theatre show.

Books by Rose Collis include: A Trouser-Wearing Character: The Life and Times of Nancy Spain, Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment: A Tale of Female Husbandry, Coral Browne: ‘This Effing Lady’ and The New Encyclopaedia of Brighton.  She was also the winner of the 2004 LAMBDA award for Best Sci-Fi/Mystery Anthology.

This is a must see show for anyone interested in quirky history with a ‘queer’ emphasis, theatre and music.  If you enjoy the prospect of showbiz type anecdotes or real-life scandals you’ll be thoroughly entertained and engaged.  To learn more about one of Brighton’s favourite personalities, Rose Collis please visit 

Auckland Fringe runs from 15 February to 10 March 2013. For more Auckland Fringe information go to

NZ Fringe Wellington runs from 15 February to 9th March 2013. For more NZ Fringe information go to


15th – 18th February, 9pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Venue: TAPAC Theatre, 100 Motions Rd, Western Springs, Auckland
Tickets: $20, $18 (Concession), $18 (Grp 6+), $15 (Fringe Artist Pass),
Service fees do apply
Bookings: TAPAC  

20th – 23rd February, 8:30pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Venue: The Fringe Bar, Cnr Cuba & Vivian Streets, Wellington City.
Tickets:  $20, $18 (Concession), $18 (Grp 6+), $15 (Fringe Artist Pass), $14 Fringe Addict Card Holder
(Please note: Booking/Service fees will be additional & applied to these ticket prices)
Bookings:  DASH Tickets 
OR  DOOR SALES (8pm) each night of season. 

Celebrating iconic cross-dressers

Review by Lori Leigh 21st Feb 2013

The Fringe Bar is appropriately set up in its usual cabaret style for Rose Collis’s one-woman show, but this show, billed as “One woman, two banjoleles and four trouser-wearing characters…” is anything but ‘usual’.

A quirky opening number repeats the line, “Which is the rooster, which is the hen?” and concludes that it’s often hard to tell, riffing on the theme that gender is performative. For this performance, Collis is wearing the trousers: a tuxedo, complete with white opera scarf, and is accompanied by two other unique ‘actors’: her banjoleles (a cross between a banjo and a ukulele), introduced as Bud and Alvin.

Aptly titled Trouser-Wearing Characters, Collis conveys the stories of four real-life ‘trouser-wearing characters’; famous twentieth-century figures who have either literally or metaphorically ‘worn the pants’: Nancy Spain, Valerie Arkell-Smith (aka Colonel Sir Victor Barker), Douglas Byng, and Coral Browne. 

For those unfamiliar, Spain was a prominent English broadcaster and journalist, who lived openly with Joan Laurie, editor of the women’s magazine She. Valerie Arkell-Smith, not only cross-dressed, but lived as male and pretended to have served in the Royal Air Force. The sole male character in the show, Douglas Byng, was a famous West-End female impersonator. Finally, Coral Browne was a feisty stage and screen actress who was both an inspiration for, and a star of, Alan Bennett’s An Englishman Abroad

The characters are chronicled primarily through Collis relating her extensive research into their private lives and careers, and personal, usually humorous, anecdotes. She is an astute historian, acclaimed British author, and has published biographies on each of the female characters (A Trouser-Wearing Character: The Life and Times of Nancy Spain, Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment, and Coral Browne: ‘This Effing-Lady’).

Though Collis firmly remains herself throughout the show, she often briefly impersonates various characters – ranging from Noel Coward to Marlene Dietrich – to animate the stories. Supported by her banjoleles, Bud and Alvin, the narratives are interspersed with light songs.

The thread that ties all four characters and also connects Collis is her hometown of Brighton, England, nicknamed “the gay capital of England”.

The set is simple and serves the format. Collis remains centre-stage with her banjoleles and on either side of her is a banner. Each banner contains photographs of the trouser-wearing characters, allowing the audience to put a face to the person whose life is being retold.

Collis is in command of her material at large, which she delivers in an energetic and charismatic manner, often getting laughs on puns such as “himposter”.  

Overall, Trouser-Wearing Characters is an enjoyable hour, and I imagine will leave any audience member curious enough to go home and learn more about the four characters Collis shares.

Additionally, the show offers a piece in the Wellington Fringe Festival that specifically caters to the LGBT community and is a must-see for anyone interested in iconic cross-dressers.

On opening night the house is full, and the audience warm and supportive of Collis’s work, even joining in to sing the final number.  


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Engaging, entertaining and personal

Review by Charlotte Everett 16th Feb 2013

Acclaimed British performer and alternative historian Rose Collis’s Australasian premiere of her one-woman show Trouser-Wearing Characters has been highly anticipated, and as she walks out onto the stage at TAPAC, the roar of approval and applause from the audience makes it clear that she is in the company of people who are both familiar with and extremely fond of her work.

Unlike many solo works where the performer adopts a character that is either an alter-ego or vast exaggeration of themselves, the trouser-wearing character that Collis wants us to become acquainted with is purely and simply Rose Collis. The 60-minute journey she takes us on is one through the lives of 4 trouser-wearing characters from days gone by who have made Collis who she is today, assisted by two other veterans – her banjoleles, ‘Alvin’ and ‘Bud’.

With solo shows there is always the danger of making it too personal, but Collis’s background as a historian shines through and so much attention to detail is given to unique facts from the lives of her trouser-wearing characters – and their astonishing connections – that we are given a feeling of the show really having four central characters, with Collis simply serving as a Master of Ceremonies, conducting Alvin and Bud to assist her. They take us on a journey back into the lives of 50s icon Nancy Spain, ‘Colonel’ Victor Barker (Valerie Smith), the legendary Douglas Byng and actress Coral Browne – as if we are there breathing the same air as them.

Collis’s high energy, sense of humour, and her openness to really engaging with her audience and pull us into both her own life and those of her trouser-wearing characters ensures that the show escapes the danger of becoming like a lecture. This is aided greatly by utilising Alvin and Bud (whose intriguing histories Collis also brings to life). The show’s many songs create a nostalgic and humorous atmosphere, in addition to giving the audience a welcome break from the detailed history explored.

It would be easy on face-value to label this as a show about sexuality and attitudes towards gender, but Collis has excelled in creating something that has moved beyond any general label. Although the show has a distinctly queer theme, the way in which Collis skilfully illuminates the lives of her trouser-wearing characters means that they each shine simply as interesting and outstanding human beings irrespective of any gender judgements – which was arguably what each of them was trying to achieve in life anyway.

Trouser-Wearing Characters is a highly-entertaining and personal piece of cabaret theatre that will be appreciated by a broad audience.


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