Sunday, June 29, 2008

Her Bungalow Heart

My Nan’s house was very ordered - everything had its place. I’m not like this.

Her life followed a pretty steady pattern: work, marriage, children and housekeeping.
This predictability, its very ordinariness, appeals to and fascinates me. Nan lived in her bungalow for thirty-five years, and so it became her personality displayed.
Yet in later life when illness befell her, this domestic environment became skewed, reflecting a shift in her state of mind.

The bungalow was sold just over a year ago. I often think of sitting on top of Ram Hill, attempting to make contact with it: wondering could I do this through semaphore? Could this be my way to say Goodbye and Goodnight to the past?

Her Bungalow Heart is about how space can become intricately entwined with personality - assembled with much care and attention over many years, only to become dissolved and disseminated later. But whilst the physical stuff may get taken, the stories and memories remain.
Here are some responses from
• Helen cole, Producer at Arnolfini.
• Kira 0’Reilly Artist
• Simon Jones Artistic Director of Bodies in Flight and Lecture at Bristol University Dept of Drama.

Tom Marshman’s Her Bungalow Heart, Before and On and On

There is no doubt that Tom Marshman is a sensitive soul. The world through Tom’s eyes is mostly a safe and playful place. From his very early work he has taken joy in simple, domestic details. When I think of him, I think of the mantra of the Good Housekeeping Manual, the planting of cabbages, a shared plate of biscuits and a well pressed suit, all backed by a well-chosen Barbara Streisand track and a faltering, funny dance. It also has to be said that Tom, the performer, is always impeccably turned out.

Yet beyond this reassuring niceness and familiarity, I have always sensed a strangeness, an otherness that ensures we leave Tom’s work just a little unsettled despite the good vibe. A fascination with snails reproductive processes, the force feeding of a raspberry pavlova or a hilarious, but inexplicable, obsession with a lonely postbox called Patty who can’t find love. In Tom’s new work, Her Bungalow Heart, darkness and anxiety are beginning to emerge further, creeping from beneath the flock wallpaper and lace curtains. Derek The Head has an incurable brain disease conjured by a tightly tied bandage around Tom’s head. Like the old ladies who gather to gossip in his Gran’s front room, Tom does not dwell on this darkness but even so, the suburban tragedy of Derek sears its way through his new work.

Her Bungalow Heart tells the story of an old lady’s passing. On the surface it is both comforting and familiar, this is, after all, exactly how things should be. An old lady dies of a ripe age, her life fully lived. Her family, in particular her grandson, all mourn her passing but things inevitably must move on. It is in Tom’s text, his film and in his selection of carefully placed objects that darkness once more emerges, hinting at the old lady’s fragility as her house starts to fade alongside her whilst her friends slowly die off. In the film he wanders through his grannies house, drinking from her teacup and sitting in the seat where she once sat. The most effective moment in the film is when Tom is captured through the window wandering the small, neat garden outside. He looks into the house but does not enter, as if the bricks and mortar have already closed up and moved on without him. Tom must leave bringing with him a collection of the old lady’s possessions and clothing, all objects her fingers once touched.

Since his early attempts at performance, a survey carried out on the fields of Ashton Court Festival asking people what they have lost, Tom’s work has told of ordinary people, of repetitive days and comforting familiarity and in Her Bungalow Heart also, he remains the magpie conjuror collecting mundane objects and stories of loss. However, in this new show these objects are lent an extra poignancy commemorating a life that is now all done. A souvenir from a seaside holiday, a dried flower picture and three empty moneyboxes, all hint at the memories they have briefly captured, now rendered meaningless by the owners passing.

Tom’s work has frequently been peppered with beautiful and at times breathtaking images. He has sat atop a garden shed as the sun sets behind him, planted a dancer in a red velvet dress up to her waist in soil amongst the runner beans of his allotment and serenaded us with a choir of whistlers. However, in her Bungalow Heart he shows he has also learned a subtle approach to image making where text may falter or hammer the idea home.

This lighter touch can be seen in the image of the old lady’s abandoned blue carpet slipper filled with brass tacks and in the ghost of her brightly coloured polyester clothing hanging empty from the rafters above our heads. These moments and others resonate with anxiety. What happens if you don’t fit in this comfortable suburban world? What happens if you are left alone with no family to care for you in old age? What does your life mean if there is no one to remember or mourn you when you are gone? What did happen to Derek The Head?

Despite this new sophistication there are also disappointments in this new work. As we enter, Tom is repetitively skipping, creating a metaphor for endurance and a strong, healthy, beating heart. Later he lies under a table covered in an embroidered cloth. A lamb’s heart sits in a china cup on the table. As he pulls the cloth towards him, I hope he will keep going, just keep pulling it towards him until it falls from the table, breaking the cup as the heart hits his own in an image of death and life. Unfortunately he does not do this, but inexplicably stops before the cup falls from the table thus retreating from one of the pivotal images in the show.

As Tom’s confidence in his own performance grows, so does his ambition and ability to challenge himself. Her Bungalow Heart is in many ways more technically and theatrically accomplished than his previous works. His past performance style has to date been characterised by a contradictory combination of eloquently poetic stories delivered hesitantly as he stumbles with his words. The result has proved both chaotic and charismatic as he weaves stories of the real lives of himself and others. I would like to make a personal plea here. Tom, your world is not made up of certainty but a mixture of stability and anxiety and your best performances perfectly represent this too. It is in your rawness as you trip on your lines and miss the odd cue that our hearts go out to you as we share your universal stories that remain so deeply real and personal and hence difficult to hear or tell.

Tom’s performances are full of humour and determination. He has a performance body he is struggling to keep under control: words to memorise, timings to keep to, dance moves to make. In Tom’s work there is always the possibility that things might go wrong. It is in the development of this very particular performance style that I believe Tom has begun to uncover an authentic and original voice. As he falters and questions, it feels to the audience that he is really putting himself on the line. When I say this I have in mind Adrian Heathfield’s text about Tommy Cooper and the unbearable, at times unwatchable failure of his tricks. As Tommy’s body sweats, leaks and giggles, we don’t care that he is a bad magician. We revel in the virtuosity of his perfect comic timing and his hopeless good cheer. Her Bungalow Heart has been described by others as ‘actorly’ and I know that this will have concerned Tom a lot. Is actorly a bad thing or good when the story you are telling is a personal one of death and loss? Here I do think the distance created by self-conciously learned lines mean we have lost a bit of you.

As Tom enters this new phase in his professional life I would like to make a further plea that he keeps the chaotic liveness in his work. Learn the text by all means but remember the life in the words you have written, the reality in the memories you conjure and that we really are here with you, watching you falter and triumph. This you deserve.

Helen Cole
May 2006

Dear Tom,

I wore a big turquoise ring when I came to see your show.
It was given to me by my uncle Rex following the memorial mass of its wearer
Jojo or as I knew her, granny Jojo – my paternal grand mother. Its a great
big smashing ring that I have worn for many a year, its frequently been
admired. Jojo could wear a full compliment of such like knuckle dusters, I
wore just the one.

Following Her Bungalow Heart the lights came up and the stone form the ring
fell out of it’s fitting and broke in two.

The jovial announcement to tea and biscuits was in a voice that was relaxed
and perhaps relived, full of a kind of mischief that I sensed was in the
performance that we had just seen but maybe couldn’t necessarily emerge.

The scratchiness of the patterned dresses the distance of social niceties.

The cupped heart and brick on chest sprang like a nightmare. Since then in
my minds eye I have played with the image swapping the brick for the
bungalow on your chest. The heart beating. In the bungalow. The cup of heart
being mildly squeezed thought the e sleeve of the dresses and their
discordant patterning.

The texts worked cahrms and like a charm were not only charming but

No wonder my ring broke.

The breaking pearls triggered me through a trap door and down a rabbit hole
to another image of pearls glistening and breaking, Ron Athey’s Solar Anus
and the moment when he takes a cane with a canny hook on its end to pull a
string of lady pearls from his anus, and the pearls string breaking leaving
who knows how many stuck inside him.

Lady pearls and lady likeness, and fighting patterns.

I couldn’t see the monitor very well, I was sitting in the wrong place to
see it right, so I had a sense of another space that was being played out
but only as an inference. The memory spaces being excavated on the stage
held a stronger kaleidoscopic presence. Scale was a delight as you played
with the toys.

What was around your chest?
I held distracted discussions with myself as to what it was before becoming
too involved with the rhythmic beat of the skip. Such a compelling action.
Strong image.

The person assisting you was in shadow and became another presence for me. I
couldn’t figure a way to not mind that there was this other person, not
seen, not acknowledged who facilitated changes, exchanges and transitions.

I loved the smoking chimney. I wondered if incense with its smells strong
associations of eastern culture and so on was the most useful as it made me
think of sari shops and stuff. Perhaps that was ok but for me small is so,
so specific that I wondered if there was something that could do the trick
but conjure a more accurate olfactory trigger.
Nelly Morris lived in a caravan behind our house when we were kids. Her
place was a nicotine palace. Yellow. The caravan rumour had it, was Robert
Mitcham’s dressing room when he was in Ireland filming David Lean’s Ryan’s
Daughter. She wouldn’t live in the house. She would cut the rinds of rashers
to chase us with a old woman dirty, dirty cackle and played scabble with a
fag in mouth and an eye for a rude word that would horrify my granny, not
Jojo but the maternal one – Dot.

I can still smell the caravan; it was nicotine and boil in the bag fish. Old
woman smells.

I think you were quite nervous that first night but performed well and with
tenderness. I suspect that you could allow yourself to inhabit your material
more, very much including your texts, the writing is strong and wonderful
and you can kind of relish it, allow it to vibrate as the images need to, to
not be in too much of a hurry, to allow its innate timing and rhythmical
structures to give you pause, to be confident in your confiding.

Because there was a sense of the confiding, of a layer being prised away and
some interior being revealed before tea and biscuits.


What I particularly liked was the attitude you were taking to the spoken
text. there was a sort of problematic engagement with it, a kind of looking
askance, that meant that you seemed to be questioning every statement even
as you said it. this is particularly powerful in a piece about biography,
since there's always a tendency in such works to reference the past or
memory or people's actual experience as final and inconvertible. you
didn't do this: and maybe this is something that could be enhanced, so that
the text always comes at the audience with some kind of framing. for
example, you could make more of the contrast between that uncertain
attitude and the presentational style with the mic that you adopt later. we
automatically read that as having a kind of fakeness, a showmanship - and
that framing would work nicely against the other kind, since you are
juxtaposing personal reminiscence with iconic film-texts.

against this textual uncertainty and fakeness, the moment with the brick on
the heart, as a physical and "incarnated" gesture, works very well, is
powerful and conveys a connection with the past, however difficult to
describe, is direct and somehow unquestioning. in this way, i think you're
able to both question and access your material "evidence" from the past -
and that's a very dynamic and rich combination.

as regards the texts, you maybe might want to look at other kinds of
histories. for instance, more local history, photographs etc, might enrich
the piece, though i can see that you might not want to get too

as regards staging, i would have accentuated the connection to the table.
maybe had a bare stage, and you setting up the table, and had the images on
tv somehow spatially focused on table, eg on it/ underneath it. so there's
a stronger focus on "materializing" the past in the present performative
Simon Jones

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