Hell. What an interesting concept, the threat of which has been used for centuries to control the religious masses. This threat has been particularly noticeable when constraining aspects of sexuality. Pleasure for the sake of pleasure? Hell. Premarital relations? Hell. Being queer? Hell, obviously. Now hell for many could be considered merely a pop culture reference than anything else. Think of TV shows such as The Good Place, Lucifer or Sandman. It’s alluded to in memes across the internet, most notable of which are the ones made by young queer people. The majority no longer fear hell, but do we dismiss it entirely? Directed by Joe Mcneice, DIVA: Live From Hell! at the Turbine Theatre explores these questions.
We find ourselves in a cabaret theatre in one of the inner circles of hell, where Desmond Channing (Luke Bayer) is putting on a show for his demonic audience. He explains that when he woke up in the infernal netherworld his own particular brand of purgatory was to be eternally on stage. As a previous high-school drama club president this is no problem for Desmond, he’s a born performer and he has a story to tell. The story of how he ended up in hell.
DIVA: Live From Hell! is a one-man-show performed by Luke Bayer as Desmond who in turn plays a bevvy of side characters in his damning but fabulous story. It’s a play within a play and thus very meta. While understandably the majority of the attention must be focused on Bayer’s excellent performance a special mention must be made to the accompanying band who are entertaining characters in of themselves and who are bullied mercilessly by Desmond. Bayer himself is impressive to say the least, as he tirelessly performs without a break.
Indeed, it’s not just Bayer that’s impressive, the entire musical feels like you should be watching it in one of the larger West End theatres. Really it’s a credit to the technical skills of the entire team at the Turbine Theatre. Perhaps it would have been nice to see the other characters in Desmond’s story played by other actors, a cast of supporting demons as it were. Bayer carries off the switching of roles beautifully and humorously and it certainly works for the story. However, there is definitely scope for expansion.
This is definitely not a criticism, indeed it should be one of the main reasons why I urge you to go watch DIVA: Live From Hell! while you can. It definitely has the potential to grow into something much bigger. Could this be the beginning of one of the great cult musicals? Either way it was a delight to watch and an excellent way to spend one’s evening.
DIVA: Live From Hell is at The Turbine Theatre until 3rd September 2022