RUN-RIOT RECOMMENDS: Reviews are in for Emma Rice’s #WiseChildren @oldvictheatre ‘an explosion of theatrical glee’… https://t.co/UzkCUaKZYf
 
view counter

Q&A: The gift of education – David Hoyle chats with Ben Walters

Photo: Lee Baxter

There’s no one quite like David Hoyle. Having grown up in Blackpool, Hoyle took live and television audiences into strange and unsettling new regions of fun as ‘anti-drag queen’ the Divine David in the 1990s. After a post-millennium hiatus, he returned to the stage under his own name, typically delivering electrifying multimedia shows that blend acerbic wit, queer politics, avant-garde style and old-school stagecraft.

As well as regular runs at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, Hoyle has performed at Soho Theatre, Battersea Arts Centre and the National Portrait Gallery, and appeared on screen in Velvet Goldmine, Nathan Barley and the forthcoming feature Set the Thames on Fire. Hoyle is also a visual artist and a recording artist, and he starred in and co-directed the award-winning feature Uncle David.

This September, Hoyle and I are collaborating to create The Prime of Ms David Hoyle, a show at Chelsea Theatre that will probe the role of education in society. Inspired by Miss Jean Brodie, David will take on the persona of an esteemed educator, the theatre will form a classroom and the audience will be pupils. Much, we hope, will be learned. As David explains here, school is the gift that keeps on giving.

Ben Walters: Why do you think it’s valuable to make a show about education?
David Hoyle:
Well, it’s a shared experience, isn’t it? We’ve all been through the indignity of education and perhaps some of us still have post-traumatic stress disorder. I think a lot of us have suppressed our memories of school, with good reason, but at the same time we need to know how it’s affected us. School, to me, is like presenting children with a situation where there’s no love, and anywhere where there’s no love is just horrific. They teach us to be competitive, to see each other as enemies. There are only so many university places and you’ve got to get these certain grades otherwise forget it, you can’t move on with your life. Or if you do get a university place, you can start life with £30,000 of debt, which is crippling and depressing. It’s disgusting. I don’t even believe in school buildings. If there’s any teaching to be done, it should be done in a forest clearing.

Ben: Ms Hoyle won’t be the only one on stage in the show, will she?
David:
No. In my persona as a teacher, I’ll be working with my classroom assistant, Simone Simone – that should be interesting given that she’s borderline catatonic – and we have different guests every evening. It’s not confirmed yet but we might be blessed by an appearance from the one and only Christeene as a visiting professor, and also the wonderful Marisa Carnesky. Marisa’s very involved in education through Carnesky’s Finishing School, which trains young cabaret artists and holds courses and workshops. And we’re also bringing in artists from the Duckie Homosexualist Summer School. Thank God, we’ve got a smorgasbord of young performers who have had this fantastic training from Marisa and Duckie. To me, they hold all our hopes for the future. They are the future. One day, when we all shuffle off, these will be the people keeping the flame alive. So it’s important they get a fully rounded education.

Photo: Holly Revell: 'Ms David Hoyle prepares to address her class.'
Ben: Is there an overlap between a classroom and a cabaret show?
David:
I do think of my shows as being instructional, rightly or wrongly. And I think it’s an opportunity to rant and vent. And hopefully it’s cathartic. I want this show to be healing and I definitely want it to be empowering. Education, to me, is exchanging our life experiences in a loving environment and in a safe space. I believe that everybody’s got a story and every story is worth hearing. And maybe part of education is that sometimes we learn things that are uncomfortable as well as things that are fascinating and keep our spirits light.

Ben: Do you think some of our educational models are stuck in the past?
David:
Absolutely. It’s as if previous generations want to colonise our heads. It’s like an imperialist invasion of our minds! I think anything that encourages children to think exactly like their parents or grandparents is evil and hopefully [in The Prime of Ms David Hoyle] we can address that and encourage people to come up with new ideas. We know that Victorian education and Victorian society led to a lot of misery and we’re still paying the price now. I believe that I was brought up in the shadow of Queen Victoria and I can say to you that that shadow is very, very dark, very intense and can only inspire unhappiness and misery. And I think that these shows will bring light into the darkness. And that’s a promise.

Ben: On a different note, you’re preparing to shoot a sequel to Uncle David. Last time we saw him, his unusual relationship with his nephew Ashley had run its course. Where will the sequel find him?
David:
Uncle David’s moved on. He’s changed his location but he’s still around. There are two new young people that Uncle David will be interacting with, for good or bad. Like last time, we’re doing lots of improvised rehearsals and we’ll film it quite quickly. We’re very inspired by the Dogme filmmakers – very into doing things in one take and working spontaneously. It will be unscripted.

Ben: And there’s a chance for fans to contribute to the production?
David:
There’s a Kickstarter campaign. We’re not after a lot of money, really – I don’t think £10,000 for a film is a lot – but if you do get involved, there’s some lovely rewards. If you pay £500, you get a portrait by me, which would brighten up any living room or spare bedroom.

Ben: Anything else the readers of Run Riot should know?
David:
Keep free and work on creating more faith in yourself. There’s nothing wrong with any of us, at the end of the day – just keep strong, keep yourself together and go towards love and away from hate and discord.

The Prime of Ms David Hoyle runs from September 14 to 25 at Chelsea Theatre.
View photography by Holly Revell, documenting the first incarnation of The Prime of Ms David Hoyle.
Contribute to ‘Uncle David 2’ here.
And find out more here about Carnesky's Finishing School, which has big plans this year.