‘Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you’ – Princess Diana.
Theatre has a way of making us feel more connected with the events of the past, perhaps more so than if we were simply reading about it or watching a documentary. Perhaps it’s the combination of all the elements: sound, lighting, costume, set, characterisation. Maybe the collaborative essence of all these aspects makes something more real as opposed to the pages of a book or the screen of a television: a book is edited several times before publication; a television show is shot and re-shot before premier. And, although a piece of theatre is rehearsed over and over again, the atmosphere is always different on opening night, and every other night after that. No two nights are ever the same and what you see in the moment is what stays with you. It is not fake and that comes down to a number of different things, ranging from what the actors had for lunch that day to the way the audience immerses themselves in the show.
The Diana Tapes written by James Clements and directed by Wednesday Derrico, tells the story of the series of tapes that Princess Diana (played by Ana Cristina Shuler) recorded with her close friend James Colthurst (performed by Jorge Morales Pico) and the handing them over to Andrew Morton (Clements) and his publisher Sam Hood Adrian (Michael O’Mara) in order for them to write and publish a book based on her life, exposed through the tapes’ confessions.
When creating work on history, especially about someone who was as loved as ‘The People’s Princess’, it is essential that it be produced with nothing but honesty and care. And judging by the reactions of the people it the audience, The Diana Tapes does nothing but impress the people in the room.
As part of a generation that cannot remember a world with the Princess in it, I am not aware of her story – her real and full story. I know that people adored her, and I know about the tragic nature of her death and the legacy she left behind.
I did not know about her self-harm, her bulimia or her suicide attempts. The research that must have occurred to create this piece is not only extensive but very detailed and also well put together and delivered. The use of Diana’s real recordings in this piece also adds to the authenticity and I can only applaud this. The fact that it was her real voice and her real confessions adds an unusual sense that she is still with us and that her legacy still lives on in the people who admired her.
The most defining moment of this piece was the ending. As Diana herself turns the simple set into a dressing room, with mirrors on the bottom of previously used tables, another large one upstage and a small round rug placed on the floor, it is clear that something important is happening. She slowly dresses into a black dress and a sapphire choker-like necklace is placed around her neck. A bracelet is set on her wrist and earrings are handed to her to put on. Her head is held high and she stands centre stage in a pose that suggests nothing but power and control.
After doing some research myself, I found the significance behind this dress: the little black dress is known as her ‘revenge dress’ after a confession was given by Princes Charles regarding his relationship with Camilla.
This moment is given immense power as one of Diana’s tapes is heard over the top of the scene and she is talking about life and how precious it is.
Despite not knowing much about her before, The Diana Tapes sets up a very clear narrative about her and the impact she gave to the people around her. She chose her story and she decided what she wanted to tell people: the truth.
This show discusses the theme of identity and who has the right to write our individual stories. Do we have complete control over our story? Do we have complete control over who we want to be and where we want to go or are we moulded by the people around us?
Diana was very much a beacon of support for people in the world who felt they did not have a choice because she herself was not given a choice: not in her marriage, not in her position as a Princess. But she did have a say in the legacy that she left behind and the customs that she broke down.
Throughout the piece, the issues of releasing these tapes is always present. The whole belief in Diana’s deniability slowly dissolves throughout the narrative and this was evident by the set progressively being cluttered with papers and costumes that relate to her story, littering the floor as though it was rubbish on a pavement for everyone to see. The information, however, still makes its way into the world because she decided it should. One of the most memorable lines from the whole show, said by Diana, was ‘I am not interested in writing a fairy tale.’ Well, if you ask me, she certainly did not do this.
Diana’s life, and the legacy she left behind, is certainly something that this nation will forever remember, and it surprises me that there are not more representations of her life within the theatre. This piece has a lot of future potential and I would personally like to see more material with Diana herself in the scenes (the majority of the performance was between the two journalists) because those were the scenes that really captured the spark of who she was.
The production team of this show, What Will The Neighbours Say?, is advertised as creating ‘theatre that examines historical, social, political and economic narratives that have been disregarded, misrepresented, or otherwise untold in order to provoke discourse in our audience and community’. I think that Diana’s story is very safe with them…do you not think?
To round off, this show has a strong narrative and point already and leaves the audience who remembers Diana feeling emotional and moved. And for those of us who did not know her as well, we walk away feeling much more connected to her than we did going in.
She was just a woman.
And her legacy lives on: in writing, in the media and now on stage.
‘I don’t go by the rule book; I lead from the heart, not the head’ – Princess Diana.
The Diana Tapes is playing at Stockwell Playhouse until 13 July 2018
Photo: Pablo Calderón Santiago