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Trouser-Wearing Characters
Published on Sunday, 06 May 2012

3 stars

Marlborough Theatre (venue website)
3-4, 7-8 May, 7:00pm-8:00pm; 19-20 May, 5:00pm-6:00pm
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

 Suitable for age 18+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.
 2-for-1 tickets for Friends of the Fringe members.

An odd thing about the little theatre above the Marlborough is that there’s only one way in. The acts have to use the same entrance as the audience do, which can sometimes feel a bit awkward. Rose Collis had perhaps given this some thought – as her flourish through the door’s curtain, crying “knickers and trousers”, certainly threw us into the world of her show with a jolly confidence.

Collis’s told the story of four distinct Brightonians, each a pioneer in the wilderness of gender and sexuality experimentation in the twentieth century.  She began with journalist Nancy Spain, who counted Marlene Dietrich among her lovers. This part of the show ends with a version of Dietrich’s famous standard The Boys in the Backroom turned, by the sad ending of Nancy’s story, into a tearjerker.

But actually, these musical accompaniments, with Collis playing the banjolele, didn’t add much to the show. I felt that I would rather have found out more about the colourful lives of Collis’s trouser-wearers. And, sadly, Collis herself wasn’t the most charismatic host. It probably doesn’t matter too much, as her subjects had such presence themselves, but there were points when I felt like I would have preferred reading one of Collis’s books (she has written about all the people she talks about in her show) than watching the slightly stiff cabaret version.

However, Collis’s genuine affection for her cross-dressing eccentrics is the heart of this very Brightonian show. That makes it work, and, along with the final singalong, creates something quirky and uplifting. The themes of the show stayed with me as I left the Marlborough and I walked past a familiar tent, now a regular fixture of the Fringe. And I wondered what Rose Collis and her subjects would have made of The Lady Boys of Bangkok? Although, I think I prefer the boy-ladies of Brighton.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.