The Turbine Theatre is fast becoming known for the go to theatre in London for UK premieres. Following the huge success of But I’m A Cheerleader earlier this year, they are now playing host to a real demon of a show… literally.
DIVA: Live From Hell arrives in London a bit later than planned after it was originally due to open in 2020. Inspired by the classic Bette Davis movie All About Eve, DIVA sees high school student Desmond Channing recount the details of his short life and what led him to his never-ending residency in the Seventh Circle Cabaret club in Hell. Sound like a punishment? Not for this lucky audience.
Desmond is played by Luke Bayer, bouncing straight into this role from a turn in Millennials. An accomplished actor, you may have been wowed by Luke from his time in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie a few years ago. Let me tell you, you have never seen him like this before. Absolutely outstanding in the role, Luke is perfectly comfortable as he embodies the dramatic teen and the events that saw his life come to a premature end.
In this one-man show, Luke portrays all of the companions Desmond meets along the way showcasing extraordinary versatility, not just an impressive range of different voices but going as far as singing in these voices – one highlight seeing him lisping away as a teen girl. A true commander of the stage, Luke always makes it clear which character he is in a truly remarkable performance that ranks as not only the best I have ever seen from him, but one of the best performances I have seen this year.
A show like DIVA relies on a good story to be told, and the book by Nora Brigid Monahan delivers this in spades. Loosely taking the narrative of All About Eve and reimagining it to a high school setting with the President of the drama club responding to the arrival of a new rival is an inspired touch, and one that allows Luke to have a lot of fun. Truly brilliant writing, littered with musical theatre references and jokes that might be a bit niche (Get ready for an amazing reference to Shoshana Bean) but work in this setting means DIVA is a laugh a minute… for the most part.
The dark undertones loom throughout the show but it’s when Desmond nears the shows climax that the tone drastically shifts. Suddenly, it’s harder to laugh – thanks to a particularly graphic description. This gives the show more depth though and the sudden turn does exactly what it’s meant to. If you can cope through the darker elements of Heathers, you’ll be absolutely fine here.
The music by Alexander Sage Oyen is of a consistently high standard feeling instantly familiar and performed excellently thanks to Lukes incredible voice. From the opener of ‘Live From Hell!’ to ‘Rock Bottom’, each number feels unique in its setting thanks to the variety of characters and ways Luke performs them. With these songs performed by the house band “Geri and Her Men” (Debbi Clarke, Jonnie Grant and Ben Uden), these talented musicians are ever-present and have to deal with Desmonds regular interactions and chastising.
The performances are brought to life (or death) with inspired choreography from Anna Hale, including a showstopping tap number. No, really. It stopped the show – and led to a genius bit of ad-libbing from Luke in character, not missing a beat. Designed by Joe McNeice, who also directs, the set brilliantly transforms the Turbine Theatre into a Hellish cabaret club with great details including falling apart décor, while remnants of his high school remain thanks to a great use of props. Lighting design from producer Alistair Lindsay sets the mood, particularly as you first enter the club, creating a truly atmospheric setting.
Desmond may be spending an eternity in Hell but the 75 minutes whizzed past in an instant for me. I was completely gripped by Lukes sensational performance which truly reflected his talents and versatility as an actor, perfectly reflecting the genius writing and making Hell feel so much fun (Choice of drink aside), it made me want to sell my soul to the Devil. A true theatrical highlight of the year, killing all competition. It may only be playing here for a short time, but a show as hot and fiery as this deserves a never-ending residency. DIVA really is one Hell of a show.
DIVA: Live From Hell plays at The Turbine Theatre until September 3rd. Tickets from https://www.theturbinetheatre.com/
Photos by Harry Elletson