In the early 1950s a 17-year-old called, Geoffrey Patrick Williamson was a train going from Exeter to Bristol, when he approached a plain clothed railway officer. Their brief encounter was deemed inappropriate and Williamson was arrested. On questioning, Williamson revealed the names of 17 men he had, had sex with, beginning a domino effect of arrests, prison, aversion therapy and suicide.

The story of Geoffrey and those of the men involved, is at the heart of Tom’s new piece of work, A Haunted Existence

Five Things I Learned:

1. Tom Marshman has been based in Studio for three years and has been making theatre over the last 20. His work is an eclectic mix between cabaret, historical pieces and collaborations with museums. Tom is currently working with Bristol-based museum MShed to create an audio tour that uses matchboxes that the user walks around with that contains audio stories. The audio tour focuses around LGBT history, with 24 match sticks to represent 24 stories. 

2. Last year Tom toured King’s Cross Remix, a one-man show exploring an aural history from interviews of people who lived in King’s Cross during the 1980’s. The show delves into how the area and its inhabitants had been affected during the AIDS epidemic. More recently Tom collaborated with the National Trust at Hanbury Hall and Gardens to create Sex, Lies and Greek Gods, which animates the historical paintings of Greek gods by reimagining them chatting in a WhatsApp group. 

3. A Haunted Existence is a partnership with The Island, a historical building that used to be Bristol’s central police station. Tom is working with producer Jo Kimber and is currently sketching out pieces of the script with the aim of capturing the trauma of these young men who were incarcerated and demonstrate how this trauma gets passed down through the generations. Tom also wants to explore spirituality by integrating a séance into the performance. 

4. Jeanie Sinclair is a cultural historian who will be working alongside Tom on the project to comb through the archives together and unpick any historical issues in the script. Tom wants to find the duality between staying true to the history and representing stories that sit outside the main frame, i.e. not just retelling cis white male stories. The title of the show comes from Lord Owen’s discussion about Wolfenden report; he reflects on how values and attitudes have changed in time – ‘we are thinking of the men who live a haunted existence’.

5. Tom is interested in exploring the creative technology aspect of the show, trying to emulate a spirit in the space, potentially by projection mapping onto his own body or a piece of paper. Another idea Tom has is to represent the rigidness of the ‘nuclear family’ domestic life set up, through wallpaper that can be augmented throughout the performance. Tom is also thinking about how to create a visceral experience for the audience to replicate the electro shock therapy that many young gay men had to endure at the time. 

Tom is keen to work and collaborate with a Creative Technologist or Designer to join the project and you help Tom raise more funding by backing A Haunted Existence on Kickstarter now.


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