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A Haunted Existence - Camden People's Theatre, BAC and on tour

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

A HAUNTED Existence, Tom Marsham’s true life show about a West Country town rocked by homophobia in the 1950s, will visit Camden People’s Theatre (October 2 – 4) and Battersea Arts Centre (November 7 – 9, 2019) as part of a UK tour.

It is both hard and easy to believe that until 1967 homosexual acts were illegal in the UK, with countless gay people persecuted. A Haunted Existence brings the tragic story of one such person to the stage, whose arrest in 1954 led to a string of persecutions against gay men in Taunton.

In 1954, Geoffrey Patrick Williamson was arrested after approaching a fellow train passenger. The passenger was in fact a railway policeman. On arrest, Williamson gave the names of numerous men he had been involved with, resulting in a spate of prosecutions, including a decorated war hero who tragically took his own life using cyanide while in the police cells.

Commenting on the case at the time, the News of the World said it ‘was not that the population of Taunton is more debased than other groups of the community, but that once vice got established it spread like a pestilence and unless held in check, threatened to spread indefinitely’.

Having worked with Bristol historian Jeanie Sinclair to uncover these stories, Tom Marshman weaves together history and hearsay and pays tribute to these brave men, whose stories mirror those of many around the world, even in 2019.

The show will use vinyl music, creative technology and projection, and Marshman will also work with local historians in London, Newcastle and Chepstow to memorialise the forgotten histories of other LGBTQI+ people, highlighting the turmoil, stigma and heartbreak many faced. These stories will be explored through different wrap around activities, including exhibitions and post-show talks.

Tom Marshman said: “Now I have been touring the show I have started to explore more stories that echo the trail I have focused on in the show. I have noted that in many locations these kind of witch hunts were part of the course of the repressed atmosphere of post-war gay lives before legalisation. I am excited about working with local people in London, Chepstow and Newcastle to uncover queer stories that we will build into a pop-up exhibition to accompany the performance; adding a local dimension brings the story to life and makes it more relevant to local audiences.”

Jeanie Sinclair said: “This has been such an exciting project to work on. Ordinary people have extraordinary stories and it’s been a fascinating journey that has taken us to places we hadn’t expected.”

Tom Marshman is a performance artist who transforms everyday accounts into theatre by weaving together stories worth telling. He has created over 20 projects over the last ten years in a wide range of mediums including performance, photography, installation, publication and film. Previous work includes Kings Cross (Remix), based on the testimonies of those who lived and loved in the notorious London district in the 1980s, and Move Over Darling, which explored the personal and social histories of gay and lesbian adults living in Bristol.

Jeanie Sinclair is a historian who works with archives and oral history, exploring hidden and alternative histories to tell stories of people who have often been ignored or written out of history.

A Haunted Existence made its debut in Bristol last year and this year, was seen in Margate on August 9.

A Haunted Existence is suitable for ages 15+.

The tour will visit Gloucester (September 13), Chepstow, Brighton, London, Portland, Colchester, Exeter, Corsham and Newcastle (November 26 – 30, 2019).