Saturday night at Chelsea Theatre, and a hotchpotch of celebrities, students, artists and all sorts form an intimate and supportive audience as David Hoyle dazzles, flaunts and sings us through a satirical romp of queer theatre. Hoyle is joined over the run by different guest performers each night, including graduates of Carnesky’s Finishing School and the Duckie Homoexualist Summer School, from which Mitchell Snowden features on the night I attend, with a tentative and empowering solo.
Ms David Hoyle enters and takes her microphone centre stage, flanked by the lounging too-cool-for-school Simone Simone (Thom Shaw) and the straight-backed prefect Ben Walters, who is sat at his desk. Guest Professor, Penny Arcade, pipes up often from the audience before taking to the stage to put the world to rights.
The ‘ladies and gentlemen, and those clever enough to have transcended gender’ in the audience are presented with questions about the world that allow us to contemplate just how debilitating our man-made society can be. Framed as a lesson in education, Hoyle, dressed in schoolmistress drag with blue chiselled jaw bones and glittered cheek bones, poses questions about war, capitalism, exclusion, gender and the hypocrisy of politics, swinging between a childlike naivety and a jaded vulnerability. Although the themes are heavy, the work is light and funny – both brightly coloured and brutal. Giving away prizes and leading the audience in singing their hymns, the sassy and sarcastic Hoyle puts forth the serious themes in the form of hilarious life lessons. Finding answers to the crisis in our society begins by changing the way that children are taught. Via post-it notes, audience members pose suggestions for a new education system. Actioning change could and should be unpacked further as the work is at risk at times of appearing self-indulgent.
Hoyle is supported throughout by producer and director of the work Ben Walters, who performs the role of teacher’s pet, dressed in a school uniform – although minus his trousers, so he is just in his underpants. Simone Simone, another character in drag with voluminous blonde hair and an elegant, sinuous posture, languishes in the background. She is getting high, passing out and eye-rolling in a minimal performance that is strangely compelling. At one point, taking centre stage, she burns a match and lets it fall. Striking another, she leans in to light her cigarette. Ending in the perfect anti-climax, her fag disintegrates into flames and Walters leads her away. Simone exemplifies what the trauma of living in our society reaps. Her passivity, juxtaposed with her energetically engaged, activist fellow performers, highlights the complexities of being trapped by your methods of survival.
Amidst many hilarious quips, some poignant moments emerge. Hoyle recites Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy over a soundtrack of fighter planes. The nineteenth-century poem on nonviolence, and the exclusion of the army from society upon its return, demonstrates the complex nexus between violence and passivity in society, and the ramifications of hypocrisy and exclusion which are running themes throughout the evening. As the planes become louder and faster, Hoyle’s narration becomes increasingly deep, strained and urgent. Scenes like this frame the personal stories of being queer and dislocated within contemporary society within a wider context, cleverly tying the acts of the show together.
Tonight’s special guests at Ms Hoyle’s Academy for Girls (of both sexes) are Mitchell Snowden and Penny Arcade. Snowden simply sings. He enters, sings a song of self-harm, and exits, having purged his emotion. His smouldering, shadowy gaze, a deep monotone singing voice, and shaking arms bedecked with rows of tiny glowing red jewels, portray his personal journey through this dysfunctional society. Penny Arcade takes the microphone in a reaffirming TED talk/rant on gender, education, biology and exclusion. She provokes laughter and shock with un-minced words, but leaves us with a message that transcends the work as a whole: that society would be that much happier and safer if we just accepted, supported and loved each other for our differences. Is it really that simple? I am left thinking how sad it is that the queer community still suffers so badly and that this piece has had to be made at all. Maybe learning to love one another is the first step towards change; a change spearheaded by the sexy, gritty and gobby Ms David Hoyle.
Featured image by Holly Revell. The Prime of Ms David Hoyle runs Wednesday – Saturday 8pm and Sunday 4pm at Chelsea Theatre until 25 September 2016. See Chelsea Theatre website for guest artists.