Tom Marshman is about to finish a long tour of his latest show, Legs 11. Marian Cleary caught up with this 'boy in tights' and had a chat with his legs to see how they had coped with their hectic schedule over the last year or so.
Back in 2011, Legs 11 won Tom Marshman the first Embrace Arts disabled artist’s commission for Hatch 2011. But that was not all he won that year. It is official. He has the 6th best pair of legs in the country. But this was not always the case. Last year he also took his legs to appear on Embarrassing Bodies. Following an examination by Dr Christian Jessen, Tom’s legs underwent a routine operation and had their varicose veins removed.
This led to a new confidence – for them and Tom. Something Tom didn’t appear on the surface to be short of. But is this really the case? Along with some other insights into Marshman’s mind, his legs tell us now how these experiences shaped Legs 11, the show where Tom tells a story of "misfits and transformation, hospital visits and rejuvenation," and how they are continuing to support Tom and take him to new places.
11 Questions for Legs 11:
1. Tom claims in interviews to have 'an ambiguous relationship' with you. How do you feel about him saying that about you?
We think that what Tom is really trying to say is that he’s taken us for granted in the past. So it’s not until we got varicose veins and had all this happen to us that he’s really started to think about what his legs are doing for him.
2. Tom calls legs 'metaphors for journeys pathways and life choices.' Does he always bang on about stuff in this arty-farty fashion?
All the time. We can’t stop him talking like that.
But really what he’s trying to say is that when he makes a decision to do something, or it could be a really big life-changing decision, it’s probably us that are the heart of that decision. So we have to take him in that direction. We have to “carry him through that doorway” is how he would put it poetically. We’re the thing that takes him through. So we have become hugely symbolic really.
Tom’s disability is his dyspraxia so there’s also a vulnerability about us for him and him for us. He’s not great with balance or co-ordination. So there’s this showiness and confidence about him when he's performing, but possibly there's that vulnerability that lies beneath all he does.
3. Enough about Tom. So last year you were a bit poorly. How are you now?
We’re not so bad now. We are covered in scars, but very small scars. The scarring is reducing but part of us doesn’t want them to disappear altogether because they’ve marked a key moment in our life. The show is about growing into your own skin.
4. You’re obviously very supportive of Tom. But he’s clearly quite demanding on your time but did Tom do much work regarding all this?
We suppose he did. Tom was thinking a lot about the project. He started off thinking in terms of that connection between art and science. Tom’s really interested in bio-medical language and that influenced his ideas. So for example, in the show, he uses that language. Part of the process of developing the show meant using medical records to be sung. This fed into the show.
Then this competition, the best pair of legs thing, overtook and changed the direction of the show a bit. There’s still a lot of other stuff in there though. In the competition, Tom didn’t think we were quite enough to make the full point and took an extra pair of legs along. And he also decided to run the Bristol half marathon with us, and them, these other legs...
But lots of the actions and processes we did were forming the process of developing the show as it went on and so he did pull his weight while we supplied the inspiration. And we just took him on that journey.
5. So you've had a lot of media exposure recently, what with being on Embarrassing Bodies, then being entered into the best legs in Britain competition and now performing night after night in Legs 11. How do you like the attention?
We loved the competition! The day was amazing. We met lots of other legs and as a consequence of being in the top 10, we won a year’s supply of tights and stockings! And being on Embarrassing Bodies was really fun. At the time, we thought that would have been our 40 seconds of fame. We were inbetween a prolapsed vagina and a male lactating nipple. Not many legs can say that.
6. Which of these things you’ve done are you and Tom most proud of?
Some people have said that Tom is the Gok Wan of performance art. He manages to make people feel better about their bodies that aren’t quite considered conventionally beautiful. He’s sort of challenging what is assumed as being beautiful really.
And also the reaction we get, at the end of the show, people just want to tell him their body stories. Like they’ve got a scar where they fell over during their first romantic encounter. That sort of story. Everyone’s got one of those kind of body-related stories that they want to get off their chest and share.
Someone said to him after seeing the show, they sort of whispered to him, “I’ve also got varicose veins.” We thought it was quite strange that they wanted to keep it secret. But perhaps that was their first step on their own journey with accepting their body.
But Tom’s default position is to make a show about it. But, in terms of Tom, he says that he’s trying to make a safe space for people to talk about things. So he’s pleased that that’s happened. But he’s also just showing off a bit.
7. With the tour over, what have been the best bits?
It’s people telling Tom that we made them feel better about their bodies. That sort of feels like we’ve done a good job then if people come out of that feeling warm and they’ve learned something about themselves. Tom learned a lot too.
8. And the future?
He's doing a We Fund campaign which is to get us to Edinburgh. We’re over a quarter of the way there. To thank people for their investment, we are giving anything from a bespoke postcard or a free pair of tights or a Skype performance or their name in the programme.
This Jubilee weekend we’re off to Battersea Park on Sunday to do a Faberge egg race, a Queen’s handbag sack race and a Tower Bridge limbo. We will be clad in diamonds. It’ll be a riot!
9. Sunbathing or fake tan?
Sunbathing. We love the feel of the real sun. Fake tan always goes orange and it can be very difficult to apply to the feet. We should just give them a mention. At the same time we had our operation, they had their ingrowing toenails removed so they weren’t left out and we all recovered at the same time.
10. Tights or stockings?
Tights. You never know when stockings are going to slip down. On his Facebook artist page, Tom runs a competition every couple of days called Guess the Legs. People email him and he picks the winner at random. He's done Nora batty. So, yes, tights. Not Nora batty stockings.
11. Waxing or shaving?
We've never waxed. But shaving is tedious. We'd like to venture into waxing.*
*DAO beauty tip: if you have scars on your legs, it’s best not to wax. I told Tom’s legs this and, following a discussion around the virtues of epilation, we said cheerio and his legs took Tom off to prepare for his last tour date and his Jubilee fun and games.
To help Tom's legs get to Edinburgh this year you can contribute to his We Fund campaign and get a free pair of tights perhaps.