Diva: Live From Hell is the story of Desmond Channing, President of the school drama club and aspiring Broadway star. It portrays the events leading up to him residing in the fiery depths of hell. Directed by Joe McNeice, this one-person musical is a fantastically funny show, full of witty, often hilarious and surprisingly dark songs. And the whole production really showcases Luke Bayer’s talent as both actor and singer.
The story centers predominantly around Desmond, narrated from his own perspective. But along the way, we’re also introduced to a host of supporting characters, with Bayer effortlessly switching between them. Changing accents, mannerisms, movement, and facial expressions help convey each in their own right. There aren’t even any costume changes to help them out, the only exception being a pair of tap shoes that come out for a fabulous Anything Goes and Chicago inspired routine. With the addition of a fiery red, fluffy jacket at the end it portrays Bayer as the Diva he has been developing all show.
The intimate venue, perfectly sized stage and cabaret seating allows Bayer to engage warmly with the audience. It provides a real sense of conversation between performer and audience, further highlighting Bayer’s excellent storytelling abilities. They superbly portrays Desmond’s camp, drama club president, confident side along with his insecure, comically darker persona.
The latter half of the show features some particularly gory dialogue, but the script remains weirdly funny despite this. The cabaret style of storytelling, with Desmond being made to perform and re-live the events that led to his eventual demise and eternity in hell is supported by the use of minimal staging and props. The key set pieces – lockers at the back of the stage, a seating piece that creates a cinema and later a car – are slickly moved around by the stage crew whilst Bayer continues to keep the show moving with dialogue and narration.
The entire show is further supported and enhanced by the lighting design. The lighting team even have their own humorous moments, almost as if the lighting is in conversation with Bayer. The skill and professionalism of not only Bayer but all involved with the show is evident throughout, but even more so as this particular performance suffered two technical microphone issues. A full show stop was handled beautifully and calmly, ensuring the audience continued to be entertained. Despite having to continue the show with a handheld mic, Bayer remained professional and calm under pressure, adapting to the technical problems whilst remaining entirely in character.
Theatre fans will love the many references to their favourite Broadway divas as well as watching Bayer thrive in this hilarious production. It highlights the excitement and humour of new musicals at intimate, gorgeous off-west end venues like The Turbine Theatre. It’s a brilliantly funny, camp, dark story that demonstrates the acting, singing, tap dancing and all-round brilliance of Luke Bayer and the whole creative team behind Diva: Live From Hell!
Book & characters by: Nora Brigid Monahan
Music and lyrics by: Alexander Sage Oyen
Produced by: Alistair Lindsay for the Unusual Theatre Company
Directed and Design by: Joe McNeice
Musical Direction by: Debbi Clarke
Lighting Design by: Alistair Lindsay for ALLD
Production Sound by: Richard Carter
DIVA: Live from Hell! plays at Turbine Theatre until 3 September. Further information and bookings can be found here.