Finding Humour in Dark Times: Performance Artist Tom Marshman
Written by: Tom Wright
Currently showing at Camden People’s Theatre, performance artist Tom Marshman’s play Kings Cross (Remix) is a glorious celebration of a bygone era. The show is a tightly crafted journey through the stories of some of the people who made up the 1980s Kings Cross LGBTQ scene. Bursting with warmth, charm and affection, the play is a must see for anyone interested in learning more about London’s alternative history.
After the show, North Four was lucky enough to chat with Tom about tea parties, the Pet Shop Boys and where you can find a piece of the old Kings Cross.
What’s your process? How do you collect material and what do you do with it?
“Usually I start by throwing a tea party, when I start a project in an area that I don’t know much about. This is a chance for anybody to come and tell me stories. Here I get the lay of the land and I hear multiple stories.”
Occasionally Tom will find people that he wants to speak to individually and record, before transcribing and ‘feeding them’ into the final script.
“The Tea Party set up is always very welcoming and people are encouraged to document the conversation on the paper tablecloth, drawing or writing notes from the conversations.
The tablecloth then becomes an archive of that tea party. I also find out the best people to talk to, with the best stories and then I will persuade them to let me interview them.”
Once Tom has collated and transcribed approximately ten interviews, he will begin to piece parts of the stories together to see which parts clash and where they connect.
“I try and find many ways of telling the stories with my body moving or projected film or what anecdote really works simply to hear. I work with a sound designer called Neil Rose and who I have been working with for years.”
Tom’s style is purposefully ambiguous and eclectic, using different methods from Cabaret: lip sinking and physical theatre, to more word based and scripted sections.
How would you describe the kind of theatre that you make?
“I don’t feel tied down to a form and I work in lots of different contexts, (performing at nightclubs, theatres, corporate parties) which makes me approach all this material differently. It’s quite freeing, but also harder to describe.
I really am drawn to the humour in the stories, even when they seem quite bleak, because I feel like this is what makes them very human. People always seem to find a humorous twist in dark times.”
You describe yourself as a “conduit” for your characters – what does that mean to you?
“I don’t want people to think that I am ‘playing’ these people like a stage actor might.
I want to still be me, so I carry these people’s stories and put them into contexts of the show. I am the storyteller and occasionally I embody them to various degrees.”
What sparked your interest in exploring the 80s King Cross scene?
“The song, Kings Cross by the Pet Shop Boys, it made me very curious as it speaks about a sense of disappointment from the Tory government.
It was written in the 1980s, I understand, about young gay men traveling down from northern towns and entering into Kings Cross – hoping to see the streets paved with gold.
And then they come into London and see Kings Cross, which at the time was dark and seedy.”
After dancing with you onstage, I decided to make a pilgrimage to‘The Bell’, (or The Big Chill House as it’s now known). It was pretty depressing. What spaces today come close to the old Kings Cross, or have they all disappeared?
“That sounds depressing! I think there are still parts that are still there, because the people are still there. One of the people I interviewed – Sue, together with her neighbours – bought the local pub to save it from being developed. Its called the King Charles, the First on Northdown Street in Kings Cross, and it’s a really lovely pub that is full of local people. I highly recommend it.”
Tickets are available here.
Photo credits: Paul Samuel White, Vonlina Cake, Luis Giraud and Richard Lakos.
Read our review of Kings Cross (Remix) here.
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