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The Diana Tapes by James Clements – directed by Wednesday Sue Derrico

Ana Cristina Schuler as Princess Diana (c) Pablo Calderón-Santiago
Ana Cristina Schuler as Princess Diana (c) Pablo Calderón-Santiago

On the 29th July 1981, the whole world seemed to stop whatever it was doing to watch a fairy-tale come to life as a beautiful girl and a handsome prince were married in a spectacular ceremony. Sixteen years later, the world came to a halt once more as on the 6th September 1997, that same beautiful princess was buried and, in her own way, became immortal. The intervening years had been a time of turbulence and strife for the princess, something she was not afraid to let the public know. How this came about is the story in What Will the Neighbors Say? production The Diana Tapes at the Stockwell Playhouse.

In a dingy West London cafe in 1992, journalist Andrew Morton (James Clements) is having a secret meeting. The gentleman he is talking to is Dr. James Colthurst (Jorge Morales Picó) a very close confidante of Diana, Princess of Wales (Ana Cristina Schuler), and it is about the princess that James has contacted Andrew. Diana wants to get information to Morton so that he can write a book telling the truth about her life as a senior member of the royal family and the problems she has encountered in transitioning from a normal upper-class young lady to being the wife of the next king. James explains that while, publically, Diana cannot be seen to have any connection with the book, she will record answers to Morton’s questions on tape and he will then go to selected friends of hers to verify what she has said. To Andrew Morton and his American ex-patriate publisher Michael O’Mara (Sam Hood Adrain) this sounds like the chance of a lifetime. Despite the restrictions placed by Diana, through her intermediary, on deniability and final say over the manuscript, Andrew readily agrees to James’ plan and starts the wheels in motion to write and publish the most shocking exposé of royal life ever penned.

People have differing opinions of Princess Diana. Some see her as second only to Mother Teresa in terms of sainthood, whilst to others, she was a manipulative woman who threw everything she could at the monarchy in order to destroy it. Whilst I’m somewhere in between those extremes, and was around during the ‘Diana days’, I didn’t find that writer James Clements gave me any more of an insight into who the Princess really was with The Diana Tapes. At times, she seemed almost confused as to why she was proxy-writing the book. Whilst this was perhaps understandable, to me, she ended up coming across as rather arrogant in her dealings with her friends and the question of victim or victor never felt answered.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t just Diana that felt underwritten. By the end I really didn’t understand the motivation of Dr Colthurst – who seemed to keep telling Diana not to do things for very good reasons then carried on helping her – or Michael O’Mara at all. O’Mara, in particular, was a quandary as I initially thought that he, as a good publisher, would be in this for the money he and Morton would earn, but then he went off on a major rant about how the book was going to destroy the monarchy and sweep away royal deference etc – and although the Royals wobbled when the book came out, they are still around so he was completely wrong there.

Whilst Wednesday Sue Derrico’s direction was okay, there were problems with scene changes which, for a seventy-minute long show seemed to go on for way too long and actually didn’t feel necessary. Madeline Wall’s simple set – black tables and cubes for sitting on – could, to my mind, have easily portrayed the three locations in the play – the cafe, Morton’s office and Kensington Palace – without ever needing to be moved.

Overall, The Diana Tapes really didn’t work on any level for me. Whilst the acting was overall good – although the cast felt a bit young for the parts – I didn’t find the story engaging and had no real affinity with any of the characters. It’s a shame as this could potentially have been quite a fascinating insight into a very closed-off world. For me personally, I would give The Diana Tapes a miss and go read the original book then draw your own conclusions on the People’s Princess.

2 gold stars

Review by Terry Eastham

The Diana Tapes, by James Clements directed by Wednesday Sue Derrico, is the true story of one of the greatest media scandals in British history – the publication of Andrew Morton’s book about Princess Diana, “Diana Her True Story in Her Own Words”, which ended her marriage and shook the monarchy to its core.

Based on the real transcripts from the Princess’s tapes, the show moves between Morton’s office, the sitting room where the Princess recorded her darkest secrets onto audio cassettes, and the dingy West London cafe where one of her best friends surreptitiously handed them over. The subterfuge and deception are brought to a scorching climax that changed celebrity, privacy, and the Windsor family forever. The question remains: who was the victim, and who the victor? The production gives voice to a woman so often defined by images and archetypes, and instead presents her complex and multifaceted reality. It tells her story in her own words.

The Diana Tapes, a co-production between New York-based What Will the Neighbors Say? company and Stockwell Playhouse, had its New York premiere at HERE (145 6th Avenue) from May 24 – June 10 before transferring to London.

by James Clements
Stockwell Playhouse
208 Wandsworth Road
London, SW8 2JU
26 June – 13 July 2018

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