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Tom Marshman presents A Shining Intimacy: a reflection on theatre, queer friendships and grief

Image credit: Photo by Jack Offord.

Tom Marshman has been a practicing artist for 21 years, and produced over 60 projects, across many mediums, including - museum audio-tours, theatre & cabaret fuelled by idiosyncratic, eccentric sensibility. Here he chats to RR about his latest endeavour with two of England's National Treasures...

When the pandemic arrived I was about to start a new creative project. I wanted to write a show about Kenneth Williams but I didn’t know what angle to take. He was a character that I have been drawn to and often performed as. Presenting short party turns and introductions to films as Kenneth, one time I introduced the biopic Prick Up Your Ears about Joe Orton as Kenneth, it was a lot of fun being Kenneth.

As we were all in lockdown I had no real distractions so I could deep dive into his diaries and biographies. I really connected with his relationship with women and how important they were to him; Barabra Widsor, Sheila Hancock and Maggie Smith to name but a few. I felt a connection between how he relied on female company and support, and my own female relationships  especially with my friend Clare Thornton who died in 2019.

I didn’t know much about the relationship with Maggie but as I started to read up it began to make a lot of sense. When I read that their relationship was referred to as Twin and ‘A Shining Intimacy’ I became excited, I remember thinking that is what I had with Clare. Both Kenneth and Maggie have a reserved quality and they are/were very private, but this contradicts with some of their performances which are almost hysterical. If you have ever seen Maggie's performances in Oh! What A Lovely War you’ll agree.

It struck me that Maggie was a living connection to Kenneth, he seems to inhabit such a bygone nostalgic era but here is a woman who had this deep connection with him and that history.

In a TV review I read that in Downton Abbey, Maggie is just performing as Kenneth Williams in Drag, which really made me laugh. I love that idea of taking on someone's mannerisms and when I saw interviews with her from the 1960’s she blatantly admits to stealing from Kenneth: “in black comedy I am doing a complete Kenneth. If he saw it he would be livid!`”

So it occurred to me to write to Dame Maggie. It was the deepest darkest stage of the pandemic and lockdown, people were washing vegetables and everyone was staying indoors, so I wrote a letter asking how the pandemic had affected her and if she thought the theaters would wait for us: the audiences and performers. All I could do is picture these empty theatre spaces, just inhabited by ghosts, maybe even Kenneth's ghost!

As I did more research on Kenneth and Maggie they really got under my skin and I was so alone in my flat I almost felt their presence through reading about them.

They started to keep me company in an odd kind of way. I often have this when I get into a project, the characters I am writing about inhabit me. I have a very vivid imagination which sustains me and keeps me entertained. I think my imagination saved me from the boredom of the pandemic and so in turn Maggie and Kenneth saved me too!

So I sent my letter to Dame Maggie and awaited a response… I was hopeful, I figured she wasn’t doing much so maybe she’d write back, maybe I opened up a doorway to think she was back with Kenneth again getting ready in a dressing room somewhere?

Tom Marshman presents
A Shining Intimacy
Camden People's Theatre
18-20 May 

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