Unsuppressed and unprocessed anger that comes out in splurges of verbal anguish is one of David Hoyle’s trademarks and I, Victim is unsurprisingly bursting with ever increasing quantities of frustration at the way the world is. Hoyle’s targets are big enough to stay the same from one piece to another – the world order in general and capitalism and heteronormative masculinity in particular take another hit, or two, or a thousand, though the focus is, at least nominally, on mental health. The stigma, the personal experiences, the hell of institutional care and response, the victimisation and self-victimisation of those marked with a diagnosis, the battle for individuality – they all make an appearance and get dissected by Hoyle.
We all have mental health, he professes; mental health problems on the other hand are labels slapped on by a world that is hugely problematic itself. In the constellation of global militarism, perpetual war and violence of all shapes and sizes, the privileged neutralise the different by placing them in the looney bin box. These assertions come from the artist who once named his painting Hi, I’m David and 48 and Returning to Psychiatric Help Which Is in the Public Interest; stories of homophobic teenage bullying, disinterested teachers and doctors attempting to provide a ‘cure’ for the way he was, rear their heads. It’s difficult to object to Hoyle’s thoughts on what constitutes mental health when he readily admits that the rejection of all things institutional is a way to negotiate his identities.
Hoyle, the self-proclaimed anti-drag queen, works in a genre that leeches on autobiography and creates a space in which distinguishing the person from the persona is difficult or even uncalled for. Yet, detaching the veritable legend of David Hoyle from I, Victim, leaves the piece with a worrying amount of somewhat objectionable viewpoints. The disdain and disgust for psychiatrists wouldn’t fly were they to be directed at any other medical professional (imagine saying ‘it’s not your bone that’s broken, it’s the world’). The constant attacks at traditional masculinity often metastasise into a surge against men in general; the premise that only those who ‘urinate from a fleshy tube’ wage wars and promote capitalism neglecting to acknowledge that society has progressed to a point where some women get a say in the world order too (only to be proclaimed masculine and unwomanly). It all comes off sounding a bit like a message from the 60s – except perhaps the timeless question of whether all these conundrums are just first world problems, gibberish to the real victims of war that we never see, possibly for the lack of trying.
Overtaking I, Victim is the contrast it presents between the content and the form. On the one hand, there’s Hoyle, the hurt, hurting, wounded, fighting, arresting host; he may be covered in make-up but he’s unadorned. He is also unfiltered, seemingly unscripted and thus unstructured and unfocused, shifting between having everyone’s undivided attention and adoration and alienating the already converted. On the other hand, there’s the minimalistic, poetic visual language of the show. A boyish youngster stands motionless and lifeless next to a big bunch of crisp white helium balloons; Simone Simone, a former Factory girl, lies wasted in the back entrance, shifting only for additional sips of beer. The prolonged images add a gentle, thoughtful side to what otherwise sometimes slips into a best of David Hoyle, complete with audience portraits and plans to kill off elected officials.
I, Victim finds Hoyle agitating once again; too often however he slips into a preacher, a paradygme of the life-long activist who is now simply against everything, detached from the realities of his audience and divorced from the empathy that usually burst out of him. This battle between Hoyle the mobilaser of the disenfranchised and Hoyle the political super-ego, culminates in a Cabaret sing-along, leaving behind an exhausted though exhilarated congregation; the only issue is, congregations are not necessarily allowed critical thinking.