DIVA : Live From Hell!

The show is 10 minutes late in starting. Well, it is a show about a Diva, and we are given Diva from start to finish in this one act, one actor show!

At curtain up we are introduced to Desmond Channing, newly elected president of the school drama club, star of every show and – as it turns out – a monster of a character at every turn.

Luke Bayer is reprising his role in this show and we can see why. He carries the story along at a pace and with great characterisation, playing five recognisable and relatable characters. He gives us his vulnerable, life-long and long-suffering friend Amy, forever cast in the role as his sidekick (or maybe punchbag is more accurate). He gives us New Yorker Evan Harris, the new boy in town who becomes Desmond’s archnemesis. Bayer’s frat-bro mannerisms are instantly recognisable from every stereotypical American High School movie and executed to perfection. He gives us Mr Dallas, the friendly, but firm drama teacher who’s always on a substitute contract. And he gives us Sarah, the imagined love of Desmond’s life – will he realise what everyone suspects, that he isn’t interested in girls at all? Given Desmond’s narcissistic tendencies, it is questionable whether he can love anyone but himself.

We know from the beginning that this story isn’t going to end well – Desmond is addressing us from hell, after all. What we don’t know and don’t really see coming, is how he gets there! The humour is edgy, sometimes cringy (in that we’re cringing for Desmond) and definitely grows towards the dark side. Throughout all this, as a testament to Bayer’s skill, we can’t help but like the character despite knowing what a monster he is.

There is clever weaving into this story of a variety of musical references, which will appeal to those of us who are musical theatre fans. One particular throw-away line which gets a good laugh is: ‘you’ve been manipulated, just like Ralph manipulated Liesl!'.

It’s fair to say that we don’t come out humming any of the songs, which is the usual sign of a really good musical. Having said that, the songs are of good quality, they carry the story along, taking us through different genres and moods, and Bayer carries them well. The music and sound is well balanced and the small band makes a big impact. A particular mention must go to Debbi, the MD, who is also the subject of Desmond’s monstrous behaviour, as he bellows instructions at her from the stage!

As we discover at the end, Desmond is caught in a vicious cycle of reliving his last days as a performance. He mutters (unconvincingly) “this is a story about becoming..…no, about yourself…..no, about becoming yourself…” of course, the tragedy is, apart from embracing the insult of ‘diva’ to the extreme, he doesn’t really know who he is and we are left to confront who we are and what our hell might be – living or otherwise! This is one hell of a show!

This show was reviewed on the 6th June 2024 at the Kings Head Theatre, London where it runs until the 29th June 2024.  Tickets available here: DIVA: Live From Hell! | What's On | King's Head Theatre (kingsheadtheatre.com)

Review written by Ian Worsfold


Photo credit: Danny Kaan

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