Avant-guardian David Hoyle is a deeply fascinating artist, who has experienced life in many of its extreme forms. His disconcerting fusion of on stage passion and endearing charm is what makes his shows unmissable events in the cabaret calendar.
The latest offering, Diamond, was commissioned last year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, and is returning to the Soho Theatre.
Jason Reid spoke to David about growing up gay, socialism, Peter Tatchell, the military-industrial complex and more…
What was life like for you growing up gay?
It was very difficult. And it may seem over the top now, but that time evokes very strong reactions in people. For me it was an ‘experience’, and I suppose these things either make you or break you. At times, it did nearly break me. But I’m still here and I’m talking to you so I’ve obviously managed to crawl forward somehow. I really enjoyed the book Straight Jacket: How to be Gay and Happy, written by Matthew Todd. That’s been a big influence for me over the last few years. It describes, very eloquently, what a lot of us went through many years ago.
It often comes as a shock to people who are not aware of history at how badly gay people were treated…
People said we were less than dogs, that we had chromosomes missing…there was a huge amount of ignorance and prejudice. We were demonised. The point to make is, we lived, and still do to some extent, in a society where it was considered more respectable to assault one another than to embrace or be tender with one another.
Having gone through those experiences, how different are you now to then?
It’s an interesting question. We’re wonderful people, so we shouldn’t have to go through a curtain of fire in order to find out how strong we are. What it has given me is something that resembles a sense of humour, because I think it’s just so crazy that you have to laugh.
During your lifetime there have been numerous events that have led to major gay rights milestones. Which event sticks out for you and who are the people we should be thanking for the rights we now have?
We should definitely be thanking Peter Tatchell – his dedication can’t be doubted. The event would have to be the Stop Clause 28 march in Manchester, which I mention in the show. That was an amazing experience. It galvanised a lot of people to be political for the rest of their lives. I’m very proud that it was in my hometown, Manchester.
What are your views on the word ‘queer’ and how it’s gone from being the ultimate slur, when both you and I were growing up, to a positive term that encompasses all?
I’ve warmed to using it in the positive sense. It can be a convenient umbrella term for a lot of us that don’t fit in. I think it’s quite useful.
So it doesn’t evoke any bad memories for you?
Not now, that’s gone. It did at one time. But I’ve reappraised my relationship with the word.
Another point that is raised from time to time is that in achieving equal rights across the board, in particular gay marriage, we as gay people have become assimilated. What’s your take on that?
Well, yes, it’s a very relevant point. There’s a play on in London right now about gay people getting married and buying a house, so that’s all part of gay life now. I suppose anyone who’s got enough money can become an efficient capitalist and turn a blind eye to the military-industrial complex, and live happily ever after.
Were you in favour of gay marriage when it was first raised?
Yeah, I’m in favour of anything. I believe that we should be able to do whatever we want to do. I find it weird – and again this is mentioned in the show – the whole idea of human beings having to go to other human beings to ask for rights. It’s like a bizarre set-up. The whole structure needs tearing down.
What would the alternative be?
Just living, loving and respecting yourself and others. And realising that any anger we have inside, we must own it and do something about it. You can make it into art or you can punch someone in the face, it’s up to you.
Do you think there would need to be some level of structure in place?
Yeah, the structure should be that everybody has access to a home, healthcare and education.
Well perhaps something on a spiritual level as well as the practicalities and economics. And I don’t mean a rule-based religion, I mean a spirituality that connects us all; we all contain the miracle of life and I do believe that life is a miracle. I feel we’re living in a military-industrial complex, when really we should be living in a constant state of ecstasy because we’re going to have another heartbeat which means we’re alive.
Do you adhere to the status quo way of living or are you living in your world?
I think I do kind of live in my own little world. I have to. I think we’re all into self-preservation, in a way.
What’s next, after achieving so much of what we set out to do? Have we reached an equilibrium?
Well there’s that phrase, ‘check your privilege’ isn’t there. I think there are different people having different experiences in different communities, so I don’t think it is all sweetness and light. We still have a long way to go.
And of course nothing is set in stone, you just have to look to the recent rise of the far right.
Absolutely. They can give and they can take away, on a whim, just to be spiteful.
Finally, The LipSinkers are joining you for this show. You have a close relationship with them, right?
Yes I have. I’m very lucky because I regularly work with Thom Shaw who is a member of The LipSinkers. Thom does the wonderful character Pam when I do my shows in London, and he helps with makeup and styling. We thought The LipSinkers would be perfect because of the contrast in material, and they are really wonderful.
David Hoyle’s Diamond is at the Soho Theatre from Tues 17th – Sat 21th April.