Tom Marshman: A haunted existence
At the heart of this work is the story of Geoffrey Williamson. In 1954, Williamson made approaches to a fellow passenger on a train. The passenger was a railway policemen. On arrest, Williamson gave the names of a number of other men he’d been involved with, resulting in the arrest and prosecution of those men also.
I caught up with Marshman for a behind-the-scenes look at what audiences can expect from A Haunted Existence.
When did you first encounter the story of Geoffrey Williamson?
I first heard about the story at an LGBTQ History conference, where local historian Andy Foyle spoke about the case - the story really captured my imagination.
It was so shocking, I really needed to know more. That was about three years ago, and I’ve wanted to create something about this story since.
Why was the collaboration with Jeanie Sinclair important for the creation of this work?
When we secured the funding, I recruited historian Jeanie Sinclair. I didn’t know her, but when we talked, she spoke so articulately about the people that are left out from the archives, and I thought we had a lot of shared interests - I was so pleased we could work together on this.
Jeanie visited some LGBTQ Archives in London, including Bishopsgate, and there she put together more information pertaining to the case as well as more general information that formed an overall view of post-war England.
The audience will be able to come to the performance space - the old Bridwell police station - an hour before the show starts, and look in the old police cells. There, Jeannie, my producer Jo Kimber, and myself have put together some items that formed our research.
Part of the creation of this work involved a workshop with local students - how did they respond to what happened to gay men during this period?
The students were amazing and so engaged with how we perceive archives and how we interpret them - the power structures, and what’s left out of them which is often women, working class people, people of colour, Trans people.
We presented the students with newspaper articles, and got the young people to create short performance responses to them, imaging the future of these men.
Why is it important for us to educate ourselves and younger generations about the experiences of the generations before us?
People forget what the world was like before the partial decriminalisation, in 1967 - gay men really did live a haunted existence. I’ve also been exploring how living with this trauma passed onto the next generation. Inherited trauma is something we’re just beginning to understand.
I spent a short time in We The Curious, the science centre in Bristol, talking to people and collecting responses as to how they feel about inherited trauma, which was very enlightening. It brings the history bang up-to-date and helps us understand that we are our history.
Even though these men were not blood relatives of mine I feel a strong sense of kinship. In the LGBTQ world, we often talk about a sense of family, which I’ve profoundly felt for and with these men
What are some of the challenges in staging a work like this in a venue such as the cells of Bristol’s old police station?
So many - it’s an unusual space. I won’t be performing in the cells themselves, but in a dark, narrow, atmospheric space adjacent.
We’re working with creative technology. We’ve made some beautiful films by Paul Samuel White to project in there, but creating places to project onto is challenging. But it’s really exciting to have to think creatively.
What do you hope that people feel when watching A Haunted Existence?
I hope that they’ll find these stories engaging - they’re stories that are difficult and hard-hitting, which makes them compelling, fascinating, and very real.
My work often tries to grapple with sex, death, and things we don’t find easy to talk about - this show is no exception.
I’ve animated the stories in a style that feels natural to me, using my theatre tools - lip-syncing, drag, dance, and video, which adds some moments of lightness but also I hope makes them more memorable and reliable.