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Print Version

Auckland Fringe 2013
By Rose Collis
presented by Tomboi Productions

at TAPAC Theatre, Western Springs, Auckland
From 15 Feb 2013 to 18 Feb 2013

Reviewed by Charlotte Everett, 16 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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 Lori Leigh