Dancing with the Devil - Luke Bayer on 'DIVA: Live From Hell'

Luke Bayer

DIVA: Live From Hell has opened at the King's Head Theatre. The show, inspired by All About Eve, brings audiences into the Seventh Circle, "Hell's most squalid cabaret venue", where Desmond Channing, a deceased high schooler, shares the story of his life when he was still alive. Luke Bayer stars as Desmond and others in the one-man musical about just what it takes to become a diva.

Recently, we had the chance to talk with Luke about taking on the role of Desmond, how he first got started in the world of theatre, what it is like to be performing in a one-man show and the importance of fringe shows like this in London and beyond.

How did you first get involved in the world of theatre?

I did amateur shows as a child. I always sang - I copied my sister who did amateur shows and lots of singing! I just fell into it that way. And I was quite a confident child so I always used to put myself up for every opportunity I could! [Laughs] That was my start, to be honest!

And what made you want to be a part of DIVA when it first started?

It was the opportunity to do a show by myself, a one-person show. I don't think that's an opportunity that comes around very often, so I jumped at the opportunity! The creative team and the team working on the show were great, and I was familiar with Alexander Sage Oyen, who wrote the music - I think he's amazing! So I listened to the album, I read the script and I just thought it was a brilliant show. I would love to be involved in this!

For those unfamiliar with the show, can you tell us a bit about it?

So we're set in Hell and Desmond Channing is the lead character, who is Rachel Berry-esque. Desmond is recounting his story as to why he's in Hell. It goes back, and Desmond's the head of the drama club in his school in Florida. I don't want to give too much away, but basically, there's five different characters in the show. I multi-role between the characters, so there's lots of scenes where it's jumping between characters.

There's a new boy that comes to school called Evan Harris who threatens Desmond, and Desmond falls off his pedestal a little bit, and it's the story of that. It's very camp, it's very fun. It's adult comedy humour, I would say. Very silly and fun, joyful.

What has it been like coming back to the show nearly two years since its run at the Turbine Theatre?

It's been really fun! I feel like a lot of it was still in my brain, somewhere. It's been great to be back with a lot of the same team from before - we've had a lot of fun. And it's such a great piece. It's so much fun to do and so much fun to perform. Desmond is such a fun character to play because he's so naughty! He's quite mischievous. There's loads of new things that we find every time we do the show, which is so exciting. It never feels like it's the same every day, which is great!

And what is it like taking on a comedic role like Desmond Channing?

So much fun! I absolutely love it. With comedy, it either lands or it doesn't, and it's a real skill. So it's interesting to do it. And there's a challenge as well, to try and find new things, experiment with things, not be scared if they don't go as you thought, and then go "Okay, that's maybe not as funny as we thought. Let's cut that. Let's change that." The book is so funny anyway that it's just about landing the right beats and finding those choices.

What has the process been like leading up to this run of DIVA: Live From Hell?

Super exciting! When we finished the run at the Turbine, we were hoping and waiting to do it again. It's such a good show, we had so much fun doing it. And then the brilliant Blair Russell has picked the show up as the producer this time and it's been super exciting! We've all been buzzing to start and it's just been an absolute joy so far. We're very excited to get performing, get some audiences in, get some feedback of this run and then go to the Fringe, which I'm so excited for! I've never done it before, so that'll be a whole new experience.

Luke Bayer

That actually leads perfectly into my next question! What is it like to be going to the Edinburgh Fringe with this show?

I am buzzing! I've wanted to do the Fringe for years, but it's just a case of the right time, the right place, the right thing. I feel DIVA is a great show for the Fringe. Fingers crossed people will love it and come and see and support the show! It's a great show and we've got a great time slot at the Fringe as well [8:30pm]. If you come along with a little glass of wine, I would say that's a lovely old time to come! I'm so excited to also see some of my friends in shows there and to support other shows, go and see new work. It's super exciting! I feel very lucky.

Are there any shows in particular you're looking forward to seeing at the Fringe?

I'm gonna go and see my friend Rob Madge's show, My Son's a Queer (But What Can You Do), which I've seen a couple of times already! They're doing it in the huge hall at the Fringe [Underbelly's McEwan Hall], so that's amazing. I'm really proud of them.

I want to go and see the Gwyneth Paltrow one with Diana Vickers [I WISH YOU WELL: The Gwyneth Paltrow Ski Trial Musical].

I want to go see Dylan Mulvaney's show [F*GHAG]. There's so much stuff!

Paul Taylor-Mills has taken up the Diana Vickers/Gwyneth Paltrow one, there's a Silence Of The Lambs parody [SILENCE! The Musical], a Come Dine With Me one [Come Dine With Me: The Musical] . . . So I will be along to watch all of them as well! And Pop Off, Michelangelo!, which will be great. We've got the same director and the same producer, so that'll be really fun!

And what is it that is so important about these fringe shows for arts and culture in the UK?

I just think it's a different type of performance. They're so much fun and it's a great way to see and find new work that's current, that speaks to people. I love a lot of the old work, but things change over time. It's so exciting to kind of move with that and tell new stories.

Rob's show is a perfect example of that. People have gone with their parents and said that their parents have gone, "Oh, my God, I understand, and it all makes so much sense to me". They're so moved by it. It's amazing that we have theatre that can really connect to people.

There's a lot of brilliant things that come out of the Fringe now, like Operation Mincemeat and loads of great pieces of work. SIX started at the Edinburgh Fringe, which is incredible!

DIVA: Live From Hell. Luke Bayer

What do you hope audiences take away from DIVA: Live From Hell?

I hope people leave the show with a smile on their face. There's definitely a character in there for everyone that they will relate to. It always surprises me when I speak to people and I say, "Who do you like best?" And they say, "I like this character!" And I'm like, "Okay, cool!" It's just so much fun. It's a really joyful show. And it's nice to watch shows and come away and just go, "I had a really bloody good time." I think people will have a bloody good time!

Do you have a favourite line from the show?

I've got so many favourite lines! My favourite bit of text, potentially, is the diva monologue when Desmond screams at Mr Dallas and all the other students and he insults them - quite rudely, as well! He goes, "Diva! So, Mr Dallas, your true colours at last. Name calling! How very mature of you." And then he slags them off. It's very camp, it's very bitchy, but it's very, very funny.

And finally, how would you describe DIVA: Live From Hell in one word?

Mischievous!


DIVA: Live From Hell runs until 29th June at the King's Head Theatre. kingsheadtheatre.com
The show will be playing at the Edinburgh Fringe from 1st to 25th August at Underbelly, Cowgate - Belly Button. edfringe.com

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