The Trials of Colonel Barker

‘A highly enjoyable script-in-hand performance skilfully brought to life this amazing true story … ‘ Judy Upton

‘The Trials of Colonel Barker’ was adapted by Rose Collis from her own book about the extraordinary ‘Colonel Victor Barker’, and presented as a performed reading in the second (Brighton And) Hove Grown Festival of new writing in March 2017.

The development of the project to rehearsed reading stage was funded by Grants for the Arts, supported by Arts Council England.

Participating artists for The Trials of Colonel Barker included Rose Collis, Keith Drinkel, Philippa Hammond and Guy Wah.

This first rehearsed reading was produced by Rose Collis and directed by Thomas Everchild.


‘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.’

Judy Upton

Audience comments

‘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.’

Production history

Writer and performer Rose Collis was awarded research and development funding from Grants for the Arts, supported by Arts Council England, to create a two-act stage play based on her book ‘Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment’, about the extraordinary life of Valerie Arkell-Smith, aka ‘Colonel Victor Barker’.

Virago published ‘Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment’ in 2001, and it garnered enormous critical acclaim:

‘Excellent… treads a careful line between sensation and sentiment.’ Daily Telegraph

‘Collis’s unpretentious, ribald, chatty style carries this ripping yarn.’ Time Out

‘A fascinating tale…Collis has researched this book thoroughly, and she writes with a lively sense of humour.’ Times Literary Supplement

‘Rose Collis has delved meticulously…and produced a remarkably gripping and, at times, quite hilarious story.’ Val Hennessy, Daily Mail, ‘Critic’s Choice’

‘Written with style and feeling…’ Financial Times

Rehearsal photography by the company