Guest Blog: Tom Marshman on A Haunted Existence

In this blog post, Tom Marshman reflects on the dark days in the 1950’s when homosexuality was illegal and how that inspired his new show: A Haunted Existence.

Catch it on Wed 2 – Fri 4 Oct at 9pm. Click here for tickets.

Last time I was at Camden People’s theatre I was showing Kings Cross (REMIX) for the third year running. It was so great and kind of overwhelming to do it here, as it featured heavily in the stories that I tell in the show and is populated by the people in it. The show focuses on the 1980’s: an important time socially and politically for LGBTQ+ rights.

This place in time is well within living memory. I lost count of the amount of amazing conversations that I had with people after the show that said to me;

‘I was there!’

‘That was me!’

But now I turn to the early 1950’s, for my new show A Haunted Existence. It tells the story of the very dark days of gay life before the legalisation of homosexuality. In this time period there was a witch-hunt for gay men, and the police employed honey traps to catch them out. Gay men were persecuted, shamed by society, imprisoned, and details of trails and court trails were printed in the newspapers. Some men would have experienced aversion therapy, being given drugs to make them sick and ill or electric shocks so that connections could be made with their sexuality and the effects of the treatment.

I have not had the same kind of conversations after this show, as people find it hard to imagine a time like this one. Some think that most of society is accepting and we need to turn to fighting other social injustices, of which there are certainly many!

But I think this is still an important story to tell, especially when we consider notions of inherited trauma. I have been asking myself, could the horrendous experiences suffered by this community be passed down to today’s community?

Is the fear that gay men experienced back in the 1950’s echoed in the way that trans people are being victimised right now?

It’s food for thought, sometimes hard to swallow.

The story I tell has a happy ending, but so many stories didn’t.

When you step back in time and saturate yourself with another time and place, like you do with Haunted Existence, hopefully you begin to see how we connect up with this past and it becomes less distant and blurred.

I keep thinking back to the James Baldwin quote,

 “History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history.”