Written and produced by Rose Collis
Performed by Rose Collis, Keith Drinkel, Philippa Hammond and Guy Wah.
Directed by Thomas Everchild.
The Trials of Colonel Barker, a new two-act stage play by Rose Collis inspired by her critically-acclaimed book, Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment, made its world premiere on March 26 with a rehearsed reading during the second Hove Grown Festival.
This play explores some of the dramatic events in the extraordinary life of Valerie Arkell-Smith aka ‘Colonel Sir Victor Barker DSO’, who veered from tragedy to farce, from fame to obscurity. A sensational trial at the Old Bailey in 1929 turned their story into worldwide headline news and Barker became part-media sensation, part ‘sideshow’ attraction.
Its structure is part-surreal and episodic. In Act I, the character ‘Compere’ introduces themselves to the audience: they are a sleazy character who guides the audience through the complex story, using the ‘sideshow’ framing device. Compere introduces their latest star ‘attraction’, Colonel Barker, and the rest of Act I reveals events which lead to the Colonel’s eventual downfall.
In Act II, the trial unfolds, with the Compere commentating like a tabloid ‘Greek chorus’ and the drama concludes with Compere and Barker revealing how further tragedy ensued after the trial.
The story of ‘Colonel Sir Victor Barker’ is one of identity: gender identity, class identity, private and public identities.
Colonel Barker’s story is one of identity: gender identity, hidden identities, class identities and the conflict between the public and the private identity.
With thanks to Krazy Kat Theatre and Jill Gardiner for match-funding contributions and Gladstone’s Library for funding-in-kind, courtesy of an honorary two-week scholarship.
4 and 5-star praise for the rehearsed reading:
‘Entertaining, witty, well-researched, extraordinary story.’
‘Outstanding – the twist in this true story was unforeseen and brilliantly delivered that left audience astounded by this enjoyable performance.’
‘Eye-opening story of gender-bending marriage and duplicity in 1920s Britain, told mainly through fairground freakshow and courtroom drama.’
Award-winning playwright Judy Upton: ‘A highly enjoyable script-in-hand performance skilfully brought to life this amazing true story. The play twisted and turned with pace, humour and pathos and I loved the framing device of the sideshow where Barker and ‘wife’ exploited their notoriety. I was impressed too by the objectivity and complexity in Colonel Barker’s portrayal, letting us decide for ourselves if she was a con-woman or victim of gender/sexual discrimination.’
Since the rehearsed reading, the script has been slightly retooled and PDF copies are available on request.
Watch the full recording of the rehearsed reading here – Act I in five parts, Act II in three: