‘The Trials of Colonel Barker’

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.

Contact [email protected]

Watch the full recording of the rehearsed reading here – Act I in five parts, Act II in three: