(#AD) A Haunted Existence – part review, part interview, 100% brilliant & important theatre…

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So picture the scene; it’s 2013 and I’m on a train. I’m younger, i’m confused and i’m looking out the window heading towards an adventure for the weekend. I meet this lush lass and even though i’m an introvert, we get chatting away – there’s something so special about a train journey meet. It’s sacred, it’s secret, you can be totally honest and real as it’s quite likely, you’ll never meet that person again. We chat about so many things but sexuality is a common theme (something which i’d never discuss with my nearest and dearest); we discuss our journey with self acceptance, exploring the binary and experimentation – all whilst there is a flirting energy and growing common bond.
The person opposite us, is eagle eyed through-out the whole conversation and has a constant disapproving stare with various tuts. One too many train wines later, there is a kiss, mostly to rebel against Mrs Disapproving; then the train journey ends, we swap numbers with no real intention of staying in touch but happy that in that moment, I was able to be my true self and open. It was a perfect train journey.
Now let’s compare this is to the story and subject of talented theatre maker Tom Marshman’s BRILLIANT play “A Haunted Existence” on a week long run this week at Alphabetti; we learn about Geoffrey Patrick Williamson in 1953, a lad of 17 on a train who meets a man at a time when being gay was not just considered “morally wrong” but a proportion of society, but it was also illegal and regularly punished with jail time and aversion therapy/torture. Geoffery chats to this man…I imagine him at 17, exploring his identity and sexuality (like most young people at that age), that spills over into an interaction on the train – one perceived as “safe” with a stranger. The person who he is chatting to, he feels a connection with and ends up having a moment……that moment changes his life forever. He is arrested by an undercover police offer for homosexual “improper advances”, interrogated and later (after pressure) gives the men of 15 other men, who are arrested.
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The parallels between the two train journeys are clear but the outcome so different – how many of us have had these “moments” of totally honesty with strangers without consequences!? The sanctity of connections with strangers for many of us is SO important and a total life line. To have a “secret” moment of being “real” violated like Geoffery’s makes me so sad….. this is a theme that is often brought out in a Haunted Existence – men like Geoffrey “love seeking” and “in it together and in it alone”. These fleeting moments with strangers provided solace and a sense of hidden “collectiveness” in a world that chased their true selves to hide, to be silenced and often alone with it. Everyone needs to have those moments in their lives – especially a young person like Geoffery at 17.
A Haunted Existence has been on a run at Alphabetti this week (you can see it tonight or tomorrow still – Tickets are £6-8 and available HERE) and I’ve not stopped thinking about it since, a sign of a great piece of theatre. A Haunted Existence weaves together history and hearsay to highlight turmoil, stigma and heartbreak and tell the story of Britain’s very recent, shameful past.I had the pleasure of being invited to the opening night on Tuesday and it was just fantastic and SO moving- if you see one piece of theatre this year, you NEED to see this. There are still some tickets left for tonight and tomorrow.
The forgotten/untold stories of Jeffery and the 15 arrested men are told beautifully exploring their “haunted existences” as gay men unable to live as their true selves, some stripped of their freedom, some faced aversion therapy and all lives changed forever. Tom combines music, rhyme, movement, projection to tell these stories and whilst it is a one man show- through the innovation of the projections, many characters are present on stage.
I had the pleasure of catching up with talented Tom Marshman before his opening night at Alphabetti, over the phone for a quick interview about his journey so far as a theatre maker, making the show and what’s next…..
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Tom Marshman
Tom Marshman has been making theatre since 1997 and has a catalogue of interesting, innovative, evocative projects that blend movement, dance, performance, contemporary theatre, installation, film, project and artistic residencies – this boundary blurring is something that I find utterly aspirational. You can certainly see it in a Haunted Existence; the storytelling is brilliant, Marshman’s flair for strong visual characterisation is evidenced at a time when new technology is more available than ever to theatre makers, so this type of storytelling has gone from impossible to the core part of the likes of Marshman’s theatre making. I asked Tom about this and he talked about the collaborations, artistic input from other theatre makers and creative professionals, that had enabled him to put his vision on stage. Another reason why I love the creative sector, the sentence “i have this idea but i’m not sure how to make it happen”, is like a battle cry to the sector and usually results in the ability to assemble a team of hot talent to make it a reality. And the team behind A Haunted Existence, are just that, TALENTED!
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Tom revealed in our interview that his journey into theatre making was purposeful but over time, including taking a degree, working in a call centre before gradually becoming a full team theatre maker. Researching Tom, I found he was MUCH more than a theatre maker; an avid art activist, live tea party host, film maker, passionate about queering the space in Bristol – celebrating queer icons, an agent provocateur within the Live Art sector developing an artistic network full of opportunities and within another collective using archival materials and research as a means of “re-enacting” moments a new. Tom is one of those creatives who already has had such a positive impact and from my perception has helped pave the way for the next generation of boundary defying projects that my peers are able to work with such freedom. He seems to put so much of his playfulness, personality, experience and his personal journey of self discovery into his work – I admire his ability to do so and the authenticity when he’s on stage is captivating.
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I suggest if you want to find out more about Tom, you check out his website for his past projects – he’s made such interesting work body of work. He’s arguably got the most interesting back catalogue of projects that i’ve seen from a theatre maker – all very Culture Vulture. One of my favourites, which i highlighted to Tom during our chat was “Passion of the Pole” – Tom revealed he thought it was interesting I’d selected that one, as it was a relatively small project that he didn’t perform that much at the time. To give you a flavour of why fell in love with the sound of it – he mixes visual representations of Christ on the cross with live pole dancing – which he took up and mastered especially for the show. I like things that push boundaries, bold, daring, shocking and certainly, stuff that other people aren’t doing – no-one likes a beige buffet and I’m such that show was a visual feast that I would have LOVED!
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Tom’s love of research and hidden history is evident in previous projects,also was (and continues to be) an important part of A Haunted Existence and it’s development – he confesses that he has a “fascination for uncovering extraordinary stories” and that’s exactly what he does, with such precision, detail, seamless narration…..
The best theatre I’ve seen this year, has been about REAL people and their experience, but there is always (in my mind) a fear of doing these real life stories justice, especially when the people’s stories being told were the subject of such oppression, silencing and injustice. However, Tom gives such a beautiful and respectful platform in A Haunted Existence, to these men, including Geoffery and manages to do it in a way, that in parts, you feel like the men are on stage sharing that collective moment with the audience and having a dialogue. I type this whilst literally tearing up thinking back to moments of the show – it really is so moving to learn about the trauma these men experienced for the rest of their lives after their arrest. Tom also shared this pressure to do these “forgotten” men an element of justice in making the show and also shared, that family members had reached out to him, very positively responding to the show.
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Another interesting element, of Tom’s theatre making process for A Haunted Existence, which he both shared with me during our interview AND in the show itself, is that he engaged with a medium to connect with these men. He held a seance with Sarah, a medium and a group of like minded friends. The seance revealed themes, imagery, men, shadows which were fed into the show’s creation. Whilst, I have never experienced a seance myself – I am a believer in the afterlife and paranormal (had my own experience – but that’s for another time) so I really bought into (and fascinated by) using this as a process to connect with the subjects of the developing piece. I also considered it an interesting process of centering yourself into that moment with Geoffery on the train whilst symbolically thinking about some of these men, at that time living as ghost versions of themselves – elements of their true selves forced into hiding or to live an invisible, discreet lifestyle.
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During the interview, we discussed that A Haunted Existence holds a mirror up to society in the past, present and (potentially) the future – the mirror symbol I would later discover would be thematically featured in the show. Our conversation further highlighted how “curated” our learnt history actually is – we are taught and presented a white hetero normative version of the historic world, almost like LGBTQ+ and queer people didn’t exist. These sections of society only seem to be presented and representative in history as trouble makers, extreme activists or societal deviants – the deviancy portrayal is clear in the show. A Haunted Existence reminds us, that these people existed in 1953 (and for hundreds and hundreds of years before that/forever)…. but our society (we) punished them, silenced them, made them feel ashamed, hide, pretend and then we have erased them from history or failed to represent them.
In history, we are taught of the moment that homosexuality was legalised and at school my history teacher told our class, being gay was “frowned” upon – so I was presented with the view as a child, that being gay was a lifestyle that wasn’t embraced by society….A Haunted Existence reminds us, it was SO much more than that. We locked people up for it, we tortured them, we made many feel so ashamed of something so natural that they took their own life to escape….. Tom Marshman does a brilliant job here of presenting this shameful truth in a way, that doesn’t lecture, disengage but reminds us of an inescapable historic period of fact, that may make some feel uncomfortable but so important to acknowledge – especially, during a time in the present where liberties all over the world due to the political climate are potentially at stake for many again and how we need as many allies as possible.
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I asked Tom, to sum up in his words why he thought people should come and see the show at Alphabetti – his first response was “Because I’ve worked really hard on it!”, which I guess all theatre makers say – however, after experiencing the show, you really see exactly how hard Tom and has team have worked- It’s brilliant, it’s beautiful and it’s important theatre that really says something important. Tom’s second response was that the show was “moving and uplifting” – now from what I’ve written above, you’ll get a sense of the moving element – but it is very uplifting too. Firstly, it has a happy ending…. (I also cried at that as it was SO perfect) and secondly, there are elements of humour, Tom’s disarming charm, a soundtrack that made me smile on multiple occasions and comedic moments were crafted into the show, meaning I cried and laughed a few times (sometimes at the same time – thank god for the darkness of the audience).
Another uplifting element, was that whilst, the world and experience was a tragedy for the featured men from 1953, Tom then charts some of the positive changes that happened in the legal system; the judges and advocates who enabled change (allys – they might not have self-identified like that at the time) and how we begin to move to 2001 where being gay was officially 100% legalised. Of course, change was PAINFULLY slow, but I felt a sense of “thank fuck” for these people speaking out – at a time, when clearly opinions like that wouldn’t have been welcomed.
As with many creatives, Tom has lots of plates spinning so of course, one of my closing questions during our chat was about “what is next for Tom Marshman!?”. He revealed that he plans to tour A Haunted Existence in 2020 “a little more” which makes my heart swell, as I want as many people to see this show as possible….. he also share that a project/show he is starting to develop now is about Kenneth Williams. Knowing Tom’s work now – this sounds like a match made in heaven project – I love Kenneth’s slap stick persona, the Carry On Films were such a big part of the comedy scene at a particular time and I have always found it interesting that a gay man like Kenneth, his “camp characters” were accepted in the mainstream at a time, when his private life wasn’t as readily – something which is so weirdly ironic. I’m extremely excited to see how that project develops and plays out……
But for now, you’ve still got two nights to see A Haunted Existence; it’s on tonight and tomorrow (Saturday 30th Nov). Still some tickets available but they are flying as the world is out about how important and unmissable this show is.
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If you get tickets or already have them – make sure you get down to Alphabetti early, so you have chance to take in the pop up exhibition which charts LGBTQ+, cultural and political events. It’s a small but perfectly formed exhibition – I loved it. Also stick around post show to meet Tom in the bar area and to purchase a commemorative Pewter Tankards made by Wentworth Pewter, to mark 50 years since the partial legalisation of homosexuality, inspired by the stories told in A Haunted Existence.
A Haunted Existence by Tom Marshman is on tonight and tomorrow at Alphabetti Theatre, tickets are £6/£8 and doors are 7.30pm. It lasts 1hr 10mins – if you go to see it or have been – tell me what you thought?
Disclosure : I was gifted tickets to the opening night of the show – however, everything above is my own words and an authentic, honest review of my EXPERIENCE.

Stuart Langley; an artist lighting up the world one installation at time…

So I’ve had a full weekend of Culture Vulturing – I’ve been all over the place to galleries previews, to live painting, to workshops, to Christmas markets, to the theatre, to Lumiere Durham and I can tell you, that it has given me a total Monday spring in my step.

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Giant Slinky – End Over End at Lumiere Durham

It has filled my soul with such lushness and all feels great in the world of the Culture Vulture, today on this glorious Monday. Lumiere Durham was of course, a total highlight…. I mean…. WOW! I LOVE Durham at the best of times, but with light installations, sculpture and projections around every corner, I fell in love with it more. So after Lumiere Durham, catching up with Stellar Projects ahead of Nightfall AND hitting up Light Up North’s residency launch at The Biscuit Factory on Friday eve – my world is presently #lit with my love for light installations so it just feels like the perfect time to share this interview with one of my hands down fave light artists, Stuart Langley.

Stuart Langley is one of many artists creating a BRAND new light installation art work for Nightfall 2019 (last few tickets still available for this lush outdoor event in Teesside) and he is someone I’ve fangirled from a far for ages. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of championing his work, programming his work, I’ve even got slightly drunk at a Curious Arts auction and purchased his work and across 2019, I’ve worked with him multiple times. It’s funny in the freelance world – folks like Stuart, whilst I’ve only met a couple of times in *real* life, due to ongoing projects, I speak to him more currently than some of my mates.

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Stuart Langley

Stuart is a graphic designer, maker, installation creator and neon rule breaker…. His light installation pieces are just amazing. I knew from the moment, he created a toilet with a neon rainbow coming out of it, that he’d cemented his place on my top fave artist list. AND he’s a local lad from Hartlepool, big up the North creating work on a National (and International) field.

I’m BEYOND excited to see his new piece at Nightfall – I’ve seen the mock up drawing of and I know where it is going to go – it’s epic, it’s brilliant, it’s colourful, it’s ambitious….it’s VERY Stuart Langley.

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So without further ado…. Let’s hear from Stuart!

Hi Stuart, we’ve had this interview on the cards for ages…. So let’s get down to it for my readers; who are you and what’s your practice?

I’m Stuart Langley and I design, create and imagine things with lights and that.

Standard Culture Vulture question…… tell us about your journey into the creative arts?

I’ve always created – from making model rollercoasters and stop motion animation as a kid to being able to create big installations nowadays. I didn’t do a degree in the arts (I ended up doing Japanese and French), not even a GCSE, because I was always told being creative could only ever translate into a hobby. I ended up doing a foundation degree in graphic design and worked (and still do) as a graphic designer which gave me the confidence to imagine on a big scale.

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Amusements – Stuart Langley

It’s so bizarre that folks don’t believe that there is a career possible in the creative industries and that message is still being communicated….Your pieces are really interesting, some have a ‘Langley flare’ and others are completely different in style…. Where do you get the inspiration from for your pieces?

Anywhere and everywhere but anything that holds my interest for longer than a day or so is always worth developing.

Tell me about your involvement with Nightfall 2019?

For Nightfall, the plan is to create a piece that is going to reanimate the iconic aviary space which is very exciting but kinda intimidating as it’s a space I’ve wanted to do something in for ages. I’m just one of a number of commissioned artists that are going to be turning Preston Park into a magical moon themed escape for two nights in December.

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Hartlepool Art Gallery – Stuart Langley Solo Exhibition

Tell us a little more about your piece? What was the inspiration?

So the iconic Aviary is going to be filled with about 3,000 floating iridescent butterflies that should look a little like magic. The work is inspired by a moment: at the end of July this year I looked out of the window and saw hundreds of butterflies everywhere – I was having a shit day and it made me smile.

Apparently, painted lady butterflies make an annual 7,500 mile trip from Africa to the Arctic Circle every year and 2019 just so happened to feature a major pit stop on the Teesside coastline. So, thinking about extraordinary journeys in the sense of 2019 being the anniversary of the first moon landing, the aim is to create a piece which celebrates a magical journey of the natural world.

Why should folks get tickets for Nightfall 2019 and see your piece?

First off, for a one-of-a-kind and memorable trip out on a cold December evening, it’s a bargain. Plus, there is so much going on in the programme, there is bound to be something for everyone to enjoy – not forgetting the appearance of the iconic ‘Museum of the Moon’ by Luke Jerram which is surely reason enough to get tickets.

There feels a real buzz around culture and events in Teesside at the moment – do you feel that too?

Yes – Teesside and its people, have so much resilience, humour and creativity. It’s good to be the underdog and so many organisations (the Auxiliary, Pineapple Black, Platform A, Navigator North, Creative Factory etc etc) are proper flying the flag for creativity in the North East. There’s a ridiculous myth that art happens down South and although there is a higher concentration of cultural activity down there I think Teesside is able to put a completely different spin on things.

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Neon and That – Stuart Langley

I couldn’t agree more and In Teesside you see that real unique partnership work of Indie galleries and orgs working together with the more “traditional sector players”….you don’t often see that. Back to your work, you often create outdoor art pieces that require real technical knowledge to survive the elements – do you enjoy the creative challenge that creates?

To say that I create things is a bit of a fib. I’m fortunate to work with so many other people with so many different skills and knowledge and the success of a piece is always reliant on the quality of the collaboration. It’s essential to collaborate when you’re coming up with ideas for outdoor pieces as there are so many different factors to consider.

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Over – Stuart Langley

Tell us about your involvement with Curious Arts (who will also be popping up at Nightfall!)?

Being a gay lord myself, I think it’s important to support work that champions the outsider and increases visibility of LGBTQ+ comrades. Curious Arts are doing some really ground-breaking work in terms of making the arts part of a wider drive for equality and I’m always happy to play a small part in that.

(The Culture Vulture adds – Following the success of Start’s installation ‘over’, featured as part of Curious Festival 2016, Curious Arts reconnected with him to reimagine the World AIDS Day ribbon. Curious Arts challenged Stuart to create an artwork inspired by the World AIDS Day charity ribbon to reinstate its distinctiveness in ensuring visibility for the 36.7 million people globally who are living with HIV & AIDS.

36point7 saw the creation of 36.7 of Stuart’s neon light box, available for a minimum donation of £360.70 each. Curious Arts’ ambition is that each limited edition piece will be displayed in a visible public area for a minimum of two weeks annually – National HIV testing week and the week of World AIDS Day (1st December). In addition, a large touring piece is in development which will be accompanied by a programme of workshops and talks delivered in partnership with local HIV & AIDS affected communities. I purchased one of the smaller Light boxes for £360.70 to support the project)

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Do you have a fave piece that you’ve created? If I had a gun to your head and you had to pick one?

I’ve never had a gun to my head, a few other choice implements but never a gun – so that’s quite difficult. I am never happy with the work I put out – it’s a feeling a lot of other creatives have – there’s always something that could have been done differently to improve the end result. But staring down that loaded barrel, there’s a work I keep revisiting called VHS R.I.P. (the fourth incarnation of it was shown at Pineapple Black earlier in the year, the first version was shown as part of Nuit Blanche Brussels way back in 2014) which has a very exciting mix of subject and material: video tape, horror and light. Maybe being obsessed with films like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and The Never Ending Story as a kid has something to do with my love of VHS and wanting to give it a proper send-off/funeral but it’s also nice to think of defunct technologies like absent friends and do right by them through celebration.

LOVE that answer….Tell me about the toilet with the rainbow coming out of it?

I’m a big fan of the work of people like John Waters, David Hoyle and more recently the artist Christeene. They all promote the idea of revealing and celebrating the beauty to be found in the dirt; ultimately highlighting the ridiculousness and hilarity of modern values that try and push us towards glazing over the more unsavoury and carnal aspects of our existence. So, the rainbow in a bog considers a lot of these ideas as well as being a direct response to some of Bobby Benjamin’s work which I thought looked a bit like the insides of a very healthy and active bowel.

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Rainbow in a Bog – Stuart Langley

Tell me about a fellow artist that inspires you currently?

I went to see Christeene perform Sinead O’Connor’s The Lion The Witch and The Cobra at the Barbican recently and loved how feral and honest her performance was. She has so much drive and ambition and never apologises for being so intense and direct – her energy is inspirational and I hope one day I can take my own work to a level where it might have a positive impact on other people’s lives.

Any advice for future creatives?

Just make stuff.

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Two Hearts – Stuart Langley

You don’t really do much social media – which blows my mind – how do you champion yourself and your work?

I came off Facebook in 2013 or summat and have since ditched everything else, most recently turning off Instagram. There was a time when what you experienced and what people told you directly mattered most and whilst there are some really good things about social media I personally think it adds too much noise, distraction and negativity to our lives. Maybe I’ll turn it back on in a year or so when all the commissions dry up from lack of presence on the internet.

Well, if you need a social media “representative” look no further! Do you have a highlight of 2019 so far?

I’m working on two big projects at the moment – the Nightfall installation and something for Ushaw College in Durham so fingers crossed I don’t fuck it up…

What’s next for Stuart in 2020 – anything you can share?

All buns in the oven for now but I would really, really like to make a ghost train before I pass away…

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Cars – Stuart Langley

Can I be one of the first to ride it please? Thanks Stuart, an artist who inspires me and reminds me that my dream of having a house full of neon art work to dance around near, on a Friday night, is more possible than ever before. See, all you folks planning your families and lives and I’m planning when I can afford a Langley commission, with a Light Up North commission and a Dan Cimmerman….

To see Stuart’s new commission at Nightfall 2019, why not nab one of the last few tickets available….. I’m so excited to see it in person! You can’t follow Stuart on social but he does have a website…so you can check him out there!