Humbuggery: David Hoyle and Richard Thomas's 'Merrie Hell'

Posted: Thu Nov 22 2012

David Hoyle and Richard Thomas's Christmas show at the Soho Theatre skewers seasonal sentimentality.

I'm surprised, on dropping in to rehearsals of the Soho Theatre's forthcoming festive show, 'Merrie Hell', to see David Hoyle in tap shoes, clicking out a routine, a cane in his outstretched hands and a rictus grin of palpable concentration on his face.

Conventional hoofing is about the last thing you'd expect from Hoyle, who over the last couple of decades has established himself as one of the UK's most fearless, provocative and hilarious performers, initially as the Divine David and, since 2006, under his own name. Styling himself an 'anti-drag queen' or 'avant-guardian angel' and frequently performing at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (RVT), his work combines scabrous stand-up, song, dance, interviews and audience interaction, all in the service of critiquing mainstream culture. He's been known to get tattooed on stage and paint using shit; a Christmas skit a couple of years ago saw his Santa throttle a greedy child to death. So… tap?

'I think it's got a primitive appeal,' Hoyle muses. 'You're literally earthing yourself, making contact with the ground.' It's not a whim - he's taking tap lessons - but nor is it a sign of selling out: 'Merrie Hell' promises the same iconoclastic sensibility as Hoyle's RVT shows but with a spangly ,top-hat-and-jazz-hands edge.

Crucial to this tongue-in-cheek development is Hoyle's musical partner, Richard Thomas, best known for co-creating 'Jerry Springer: The Opera' and 'Anna Nicole: The Opera'. As well as crafting the music, Thomas will be Hoyle's on-stage accompanist - his return to live performance after 16 years. 'I'm terrified,' he admits. 'I prefer to complete something and let other people perform it. But I hope my love for it will be rekindled.'

'Merrie Hell' comprises a dozen catchy original songs, mostly with skewed festive themes ('Jingle, jangle, family/I hate them and they hate me') but also taking in aspects of Hoyle's radical worldview such as a characteristically sardonic take on gays in the military: 'Why should the fact I want to ejaculate up another man's shitter take away my right to kill?' There's also plenty of room for his trademark improvisation and audience engagement.

The show grew out of sincere scepticism about the pressures of Yuletide. 'I refuse to socialise at all on Christmas Day,' Hoyle says. 'I hate being told when to feel this or that - this forced bonhomie, like some leaden obligation.' Thomas takes a more temperate view of the season but appreciates Hoyle's frankness. 'David has a genuine love and respect for truth,' he says. 'If David doesn't like a song, he can't perform it. There's no gnashing of teeth or stamping of feet but David can't fake it.'

As an honest antidote to seasonal sentimentality, 'Merrie Hell' might just provoke a few warm feelings of togetherness after all. 'I hope we're offering a totem that everybody can gather around,' Hoyle says jauntily. 'It might make people rethink whether their head's full of shit.' Festive tidings all round!