Taking inspiration from Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, David Hoyle’s latest show is a satiric lecture performance aiming to deconstruct education through the medium of education.
Ms Hoyle’s character is loving and charismatic like the novel’s titular character. She starts the class by greeting everyone warmly, trying to establish genuine connections with everyone in the room. Addressing us as “ladies and gentlemen, and those of you clever enough to transcend gender”, the cabaret maverick sets the radical and nonconforming overtone of the class.
There is no doubt that Ms Hoyle is a seasoned performer in the cabaret scene. She treats the students to a plethora of her talents, from improvising a song about the core values of education, to immortalising one of us in the form of an abstract chalk portrait. She also appears to be very well-read and incredibly knowledgeable. It is hard not to feel small in her class, for without knowledge of Spark’s book and the wide and varied cultural references made by our head teacher, we won’t be able to fully appreciate her ingenuity.
With confidence and fearless abandonment Ms David Hoyle treads the slippery ground between satire and pedagogy throughout the show. Setting the ground rule that conforming individuals will be thrown out of the classroom, she proceeds to throw torrents of ideas and radically liberal doctrines at her students. Sometimes she is a forward thinker, suggesting we should learn from the Finnish teaching model which values individuality and vocational training. Sometimes she is a self-proclaimed cult leader, professing her faith in Jeremy Corbyn under an alter she has made to worship him. And sometimes she is a tyrant, interrupting “Perfect Prefect” Ben (Ben Walters) in his speech when she has earlier announced that discussion and feedback are welcomed in the classroom. There are moments that feel imposing or mind-bending, but with her irresistible charm and vigour Ms Hoyle glides through unscathed.
Throughout the run, the class has the pleasure of Visiting Professors. Tonight the class is blessed by the presence of cabaret legend Penny Arcade who marks her entrance by destroying the order of the house and demanding for her turn to speak. As soon as she gets on stage, she announces that she will not be talking about education as she was asked to. Instead she offers the students her thoughts on a range of issues from her take on transgender identity, her vehement distaste of the philistine and how we should all be ourselves because in the grand scheme of things, nothing really matters. She gives the students a lot of food for thought, and leaves us to wonder if she has just challenged the effectiveness of Ms Hoyle’s teaching model, or burst wide open the possibilities of liberal learning.
Running at 2.5 hours with a mishmash of lectures, anecdotes, assignments and performance from Duckie and Carnesky graduates, the show would benefit from some editing and consolidation. More importantly, it has yet to address the million dollar question: having burned the establishment to the ground, how do we move beyond the allure of anarchy and rise from its ashes? Perhaps, this is the final assignment Ms David Hoyle leaves us with before we can graduate…
The Prime of Ms David Hoyle is playing at Chelsea Theatre at 8pm and 4pm (Sunday matinee) until Sun 25 Sep. 7 World’s End Place, King’s Road, London SW10 0DR. http://www.chelseatheatre.org.