The Ghosts of Britain’s LGBT Past Set to Haunt Newcastle

A Haunted Existence, a play spotlighting the persecution of gay men in 20th century Britain, comes to Alphabetti Theatre in November

Thousands marched through the streets of Newcastle this July as part of Northern Pride, celebrating LGBTQ+ lives and rights. As pride celebrations grow bigger each year and are embraced as part of the cultural fabric of Britain, it is easy to forget that homosexuality was illegal in Britain’s not too distant history.

This is at the heart of what inspired playwright and actor Tom Marshman’s new play, A Haunted Existence, to be performed at Alphabetti Theatre from 26 November 2019.

The play is based on the real-life story of 17-year-old Geoffrey Patrick Williamson. In 1954, Geoffrey propositioned a plain-clothes railway policeman on a train from Exeter to Bristol, he was subsequently arrested, and his questioning led to 15 gay men being arrested and charged with gross indecency. 

Astonished by the story, Tom was moved to write the play, which is as diverse as it is shocking, bringing storytelling, animated history, cabaret and lip-syncing to the stage. A Haunted Existence has now toured in Bristol, Peterborough and Folkestone thanks to financial support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England, but it started life as a Kickstarter campaign.

Playwright and performer, Tom Marshman explains, “Initially, I had written A Haunted Existence as a direct response to Geoffrey’s story, but had no way of knowing if it would resonate with people. The Kickstarter campaign demonstrated such a demand, we exceeded our target by 20% and were able to secure an 8-night run in Bristol last year.”

Throughout the development of A Haunted Existence, Tom worked with historian, Jeanie Sinclair to research the history of homosexuality and the criminal system in Britain and consulted a spiritual medium to conduct séance to contact some of the people involved in the 1955 court cases. 

Tom continues, “We explored various avenues to make sure that we honoured the lives of the men involved and also to give our audiences an immersive experience. Whether it was historical research or something more spiritual, we wanted to bring together both the emotions and the facts. It was an incredibly moving process to go through.”

Whilst the research process was often dark, for example, Tom investigated the prevalence of aversion therapy, a common punishment given to men ‘charged' with homosexuality in Britain during the 40s and 50s, there were also some beacons of hope.

The man whose experience inspired A Haunted Existence, Geoffrey Patrick Williamson, emigrated to Australia where he started a new life. 

“I am so excited to bring A Haunted Existence to audiences in Newcastle,” Tom comments.“We have experienced great success from our performances across the country and feel that the play’s subject matter has resonated with audiences deeply. I would love to see LGBTQ+ people and their allies at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle this November.”

As part of the performances at Alphabetti Theatre, Tom is researching the LGBTQ+ history of Newcastle, with the view to incorporating some local stories into the performances from 26 November 2019.

A Haunted Existence will be performing at Alphabetti Theatre from 26 to 30 November 2019. Tickets available by visiting the Alphabetti website, and start from £6.00.