Original review: The Reviews Hub
Haunting and humorous: an experimental examination of the history of homosexuality
‘You may find this morally wrong. I don’t’: the irreverent, fearlessly truthful, revolutionary reaction of Geoffrey Patrick Williamson, a teenager arrested in Taunton in the fifties after approaching a plain-clothes police officer while travelling on a train. His crime? Existing as a homosexual, and what a haunted existence it was.
A Haunted Existence is writer and performer Tom Marshman’s response to this South West story, the arrests, imprisonment, and inhuman treatment that followed, and the haunting effect the history of homosexuality still has on its future. Hosted at The Island, an old police station with some insightful installations to explore in the empty cells, A Haunted Existence is a lecture-come-floorshow with a little séance at play, too. The performance focuses heavily on the collective past of homosexuality, with Marshman echoing the harrowing experiences of these men with repeated phrases like ‘they were in it together, they were in it alone’, and ‘I imagine…’
And Marshman’s imagination is magnetic. Grounded in dancing, DJing, and suggestions of drag, the way Marshman imagines language is enlightening, engaging with a legacy of gay language and gags. The performance opens with an alphabet that, though illustrating everything from the archives that have forgotten this very contemporary past to the ‘z’ drugs administered as part of aversion therapy, proves its limits of expression for trauma as Marshman later humorously mimes along to the voices of overlords who had the freedom of expression that history deprived homosexuality. It lampoons them while simultaneously lamenting the voices that it silenced.
The voiceovers are the most effective example of Marshman’s experimentation with creative technology. The technology often competes with rather than complements his energy and magnetism, and the more uncomplicated the technology – with a projector performing just as effectually as projection mapping – the more effective it feels. The narrative is enough.
Haunting and humorous, A Haunted Existence is an experimental examination of the history of homosexuality, hampered a little by that experimentation but ultimately triumphant in telling a story, that, historically, has been muted.