Many millennials are too young to remember the publication of the book Diana: Her True Story, or the scandal that followed it in 1992. But that doesn’t mean the events don’t hold any relevance anymore. In a time in which mental health, the media, privacy and even the royal family (think The Crown, Meghan & Harry) are very much on people’s minds, Diana’s story seems awfully current again. It’s a shame that The Diana Tapes does not seem to realise that.
Theatre company What Will The Neighbors Say? takes to the Stockwell Playhouse with an original play telling the story of how Princess Diana recorded a series of very honest interviews for journalist Andrew Morton to write up. The actual historical events – a non-important journalist having the scandal of the decade thrown into his lap by gaining permission to publicise the confessions of a depressed and suicidal princess – are intriguing. The play, however, doesn’t manage to be half as interesting.
James Clement’s writing lacks some sophistication and is rather tame. He juxtaposes three relationships: the one between Diana and her close friend James Colthurst, who records the tapes with her; the one between Colthurst and journalist Andrew Morton, who gains permission to publish them; and the one between Morton and his publisher Michael O’Mara. Most of these characters remain quite one-dimensional, with O’Mara (Sam Hood Adrain) topping the list as a hyper-American capitalist who doesn’t do much more than swear and count the money he’ll make off this book. Clement’s own character, Morton, is the most believable out of the four, with feelings and motives that seem slightly more complex than the others’. Though perhaps his credibility is also due to the fact that he is the only actor on stage that hasn’t adopted a very distracting, unnatural accent.
Overall, however, the actors all just seem a bit too young to convincingly portray the maturity and depth of the (real) people they are representing. Diana (Ana Cristina Schuler) looks more like a little girl than a mother of two who suffers from mental health problems, and Colthurst (Jorge Morales Picó) doesn’t manage to convey a real sense of fondness for her. Their friendship lacks the necessary warmth and intimacy to really be believable.
Scene changes are messy and unnecessarily complicated, and the dialogues often feel slightly unnatural; whether due to the writing or acting is sometimes hard to tell. All in all, it is hard to ever become truly absorbed in the story.
The fact that What Will The Neighbors Say have written, produced, sound-designed and performed this play by themselves (with help of director Wednesday Sue Derrico) is laudable. The production is well-rehearsed and certainly entertains its audience, by playing up the comedic aspects of the script more than the darker ones.
One can’t help but wonder, however, whether this production would have looked any different had it been performed twenty years ago. Effective theatre connects different eras, makes historical events relevant again, or manages to shed a new light on either past or current times. Unfortunately, entertaining as it is, The Diana Tapes never becomes more than a little historical recap for millennials.