The hidden LGBT histories of King's Cross
Kings Cross (Remix) at Camden People's Theatre uncovers the hidden histories of LGBT communities in London during the 1980s. Tom Marshman uncovers these histories through memories of the King's Cross area; a place that has undergone radical change since its day as a hub of LGBT communities, bars and culture. Here Tom tells us about the making of the show, which comes to Camden People's Theatre this May. (Click here to book).
Tell us a bit about your show
I focused my research around the Kings Cross area in London in the 1980’s. The show uncovers the hidden histories of LGBT communities in this area, which has undergone radical change since this time. I discovered that in many ways it was a hub of LGBT communities, bars and culture but more underground in comparison to West End hang outs that most people know about. I feel like the show really celebrates this raucous and riotous time where sexuality and identity was being explored, HIV was causing tragedy, and rights were to be fought for.
What was the inspiration behind the project?
Kings Cross by the Pet Shop Boys is a seminal song for me.
It marks a key moment in my life when I first understood that sometimes life can be relentlessly bleak. Looking into the song and the video filmed by Derek Jarman, I now understand that one of the subtexts is about the HIV virus that affected gay men in the late 80’s in the UK.
Neil Tennant, writer of the song, explains how the song came about:
‘I just thought that was a metaphor for Britain - people arriving at this place, waiting for an opportunity that doesn't happen, waiting for the dole queue or some documentation for the NHS. It's about hopes being dashed.’
I start the show with the Kings Cross song (but the Tracey Thorne version) and it feels a little bit like a hymn.
Why did you decide to focus on the Kings Cross area?
I feel like Kings Cross in the 80’s was a place where lots of people and things were rubbing up against each other. There were people really trying to make things a lot better, setting up gay switchboard, or creating a hub for political campaigns to very wild creative parities and alternative music and film, to people involved in sex work and drugs. Since then Kings Cross and its surrounding area has had a major regeneration, these aspects of the neighbourhood have been pushed in the shadows. Even the HIV/Aids crisis is not such a crisis anymore but is more of a low level threat. But they still exist; there are still traces of this past that has just shifted geography.
I love the fact that some people in the show were tired and frustrated by the gentrification of Kings Cross and so as a local community they bought their local pubs to save it from the fat cat developers. It’s so heartening to hear, that there are still pockets of real community where the rest can feel soulless. Since I did the interview I have been to the local pub and had a great night there. I can highly recommend the King Charles 1st on Northdown Street. Visiting the pub has brought these stories to life and I really see how important the pub is to the people that live there.
How has the Camden community been involved in the making of the show?
I live in Bristol and so I needed to find ways to quickly understand the locally. I think of myself as a ‘friendly stranger’ when I am making a show in different cities. I have followed this process a handful of times, in Birmingham, Bristol, East London and Luton. So it's a tried and tested approach and the first thing I do is host tea parties locally and there local people came and told their stories this gave me a good overview of the area, before going onto interview people more in-depth and of course hanging out in the area, that might be drinking in the pubs or chatting to shop owners to reading up on local history in the library.
You use an unusual process in making the show, basing it on the real words of your interviewees. What do you think the strengths are of making a show in this way?
I put a call out that I was hosting tea parties to collect stories from this time which were open to all but with an LGBTQ focus. There I met people who I interviewed and these interviews were transcribed and woven into the eventual script. I guess I met around half of the participants through the tea parties and the other half were people I already knew. I was just a little bit too young to be hanging out in London in the 80’s. I had one friend who worked at Gay Switchboard right at the beginning of the 80’s, so I knew I wanted his descriptions of the place in the show and he was happy to donate his story. It’s funny when people come to the show and hear the descriptions of the place, which was small and dilapidated, people find that quite surprising! I wanted a diverse range of stories for the new tour of the show and I have added an extra story from a Trans person, so all of the characteristics of LGBTQ are represented in some way. It is exciting that the show can evolve in this way.
Why did you decide to stage it at Camden People's Theatre?
Camden People’s Theatre has a special place in my heart and I have been performing there for years with different shows. It really suits my shows, as they are normally quite intimate and I feel like I can make a strong connection with the audience there, due to their proximity. They are also really great at developing gender positivity/inclusivity and are very keen to be welcome and be accessible to artists and audiences of all diverse backgrounds, lifestyles and situations.
What other projects are on the horizon for you as an artist?
Over the Summer I am developing a new project with the National Trust to tell LGBTQ stories through their properties. I’ll be working in Hanbury Hall in Droitwitch. It's a really exciting time to work with them as they are leading with this program as it’s 50 years since the de-crimalisation of male homosexuality and they are making a big effort to make the National Trust tell more diverse stories.
For ticket booking information click here.
Performances Tuesday 16 - Saturday 27 May 2017 at 7.15pm
Click here for Love Camden's Collection article on the work of Derek Jarman!