Kings Cross (Remix) offers a haunted, hypnotic, and a deeply personal LGBTQ history lesson that begs to be heard and told.
Tom Marshman has collected tales from people who lived in the Kings Cross area of London in the 1980s: then, a hive of sex, music, and Bohemia compared to today’s beige regeneration. But what can be told about this part of time where HIV was a death sentence and Leigh Bowery was queen of the alternative queer scene by the people who lived there?
Coincidentally, I lived in Kings Cross when I first moved to London in 2008. I can hardly say that I therefore know of the throng of forbidden pleasures it was 25 years prior, but there were still little spots of it remaining back then; gay fetish sex club Play Pit was still operating on Caledonian Road; strip-joint The Flying Scotsman (now the Scottish Stores) had no sign, blacked out windows, and a constant all-hours rotation of gruff beer-bellied men smoking and drinking outside; the Pirate Bookstore seemingly sold books to seafarers who had a keen interest in hardcore porn; and Prostitutes still worked the streets late some nights, although their numbers were few (I was approached by one lady-of-the-night once, and was so drunk that I actually laughed out loud. I feel quiet bad about that as it was rather rude of me). But it was hardly the halcyon hedonism that it became infamous for.
Historically, Kings Cross holds significance for the LGBTQ community. It’s where the Gay & Lesbian Switchboard (then just the Gay Switchboard) was set up, where men would meet for anonymous sex, and the community of queer artists that thrived there made it a focal point and a cauldron for change during the LGBTQ community’s darkest period: the HIV/AIDs epidemic. Kings Cross (Remix) is made up of verbatim from reflective interviews with people who lived in Kings Cross at the time and told through our narrator, Tom Marshman.
The treatment of these interviews is incredibly clever and the most interesting about Kings Cross (Remix). Marshman’s tempering and tampering means everything gets so mixed up that you’re not sure who’s story it is and/or who is telling it. Whilst it sounds like this would be a negative point, the actual result is that you get the sense that this is the voice a community rather than a group of individuals. Marsham has very cleverly interconnected them so that they feel intricately dependent on each other: it’s not the people that stand out, its the history. Whilst this approach is somewhat trippy, things blending together surreally and headily, this approach coupled with the excellently clever staging of Kings Cross (Remix) actually keeps you engaged rather than losing you.
The main problem with Kings Cross (Remix) is that, whilst an interesting documentation and account of Kings Cross at that time, it feels a little incoherent in that it doesn’t make an overall point or lead to any definite conclusion, making it feel a bit transient. But it feels odd to make such a criticism because it’s very apparent that Kings Cross (Remix) is not a show about coming to set point or build a defined narrative peak; it makes no allusions as to being anything other than telling a collection of personal stories that are worth telling. It would have been nice to maybe have some direction or goal to Kings Cross (Remix), like linking the area’s gentrification to issues like whether equal marriage, LGBTQ being assimilated into an institution, is akin to the homogeneous corporate blandness that now inhabits the physical area. But, in all honesty, not having something so deliberate doesn’t hurt Kings Cross (Remix) that much. The are accounts of being trans in the 1980s, what it was like to work or phone the Gay Switchboard, memories of the tragic Kings Cross tube station fire, and life in Kings Cross during the AIDs epidemic: all deft vignettes that seep into each other that are all fascinating and crucial titbits about the LGBTQ community. They’re all a joy to hear, especially given the strange and ethereal treatment they’ve given, especially when delivered via the supernatural abilities of Marshman’s storytelling.
Direction & Production
The entire production is conceived and delivered by Marshman, therefore making direction and production intricately woven into the text. Marshman breaks-up and stirs trance-like sequences with absolutely wonderful moments of physical theatre, lip-syncing, video projection, sound, and lighting. The execution of all these makes Kings Cross (Remix) a real visual and audio treat that lifts and drives the content ensuring that the variety in the ways of telling the stories ensures nothing gets stale: the stagecraft has you transfixed. A lot of it is also incredibly clever, especially in bringing you back to people and quotes at various points in the play through replaying audio interviews or the canny use of symbolism established in the physical theatre element of Kings Cross (Remix). Although Marshman says that the show is conceived with a fascination in a time and place he never felt he was fully a part of, there’s far more intelligence here than mere novelty that makes Kings Cross (Remix) a really great piece.
The only criticism is that there’s a lot of work with masking tape being placed on the floor throughout, and this is possibly the weakest element of the production. Apart from denoting things like stairs or a telephone table, it feels at worst unnecessary and at best underused. The focus of the show is magnetically drawn towards Marshman’s performance and the stagecraft of Kings Cross (Remix), and faffing around with bits of tape breaks you out of that spell, especially as you’re never quite sure what Marshman is trying to do with it all.
Marshman’s performances drives Kings Cross (Remix) as much as the stunning stagecraft and the intricate text. Their handle of the verbatim is so fluid and natural that you forget these are other people’s word and could swear blind they’re Marshman’s own. But the magic of Marshman’s performance is that it feels so personal. Even though the physical theatre elements of Kings Cross (Remix) are certainly odd and could potentially alienate an audience because of its flailing weirdness, Marshman both moves and talks in a complete engagement with you directly rather than a feeling like an abstract collage of the interviewees. It’s a complete captivation that is forged in the auditorium by Marshman, forming a deep connection with not just them as conduit but also every one of the people they’re conjuring.
Kings Cross (Remix) is an engrossing and psychedelic time warp that makes us connect with a personal side of history we tend to forget about.