DIANA: THE UNTOLD AND UNTRUE STORY at the Pleasance Theatre
“nothing can prepare you for the exceptional creativity, insanity and uniqueness of this production and its talented cast”
Linus Karp, the jellicle founder of Awkward Productions, returns to the stage with his newest piece of chaotic nonsense – Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story. Diana, Princess of Wales, has gained an almost mythic status since her untimely death in 1997. The people’s princess’ crowded marriage and messy divorce with now-King Charles; her extensive humanitarian work; and her effortless style captivated the world population and Karp (in drag) shares a thoroughly imagined reimagining of her extraordinary life.
The hour-long extravaganza is a feast of audience participation and multi-media. Before the show begins, random audience members (including your reviewer!) are handed character cards to indicate that they will be up during the performance to read out a short script. Props – from a mitre to a corgi mask – and hilariously pointless characters such as A Landmine and Gay Fan #2 make these interactions thoroughly enjoyable.
As expected, Karp makes great use of PowerPoint and video throughout his play. Supporting characters such as The Queen (Geri Allen) and God (Zina Badran) appear in short video clips throughout the performance with Stage Manager Joseph Martin timing them perfectly to simulate conversation and amusing interruptions. The use of such lively happenings on the screen means the barren stage is barely noticeable though some jubilee bunting or decoration to that effect would not have been amiss. A life-size cardboard cut-out of Charles is about the only item that sits on stage and even he is removed halfway through.
Karp is strong throughout and his energy infectious. Allen gives it her all as The Queen; her scenes some of the funniest. It would have been enjoyable to see more of Badran as God, a character who is only introduced in the last quarter of the play. Martin, apart from his role of Stage Manager, does an exceptional job of ‘operating’ Camilla who is represented by a giant rag doll puppet with a demonic voice. A real highlight which makes for some outlandish fight and sex sequences.
The audience are treated to four iconic looks from Diana’s wardrobe including a baggy jumper and cycling shorts and the so-called ‘revenge dress’. The wedding dress with an extremely long train also features as does the repeating motif of the princess falling to the ground in anguish as often seen in her fictional portrayals. The Queen’s various looks are impressively accurate and again it would have been nice to see more from God who simply wore a sparkly top. Perhaps some Diana merchandise or a shirt that said, ‘I went to Heaven and all I got was this lousy t-shirt’?
There is no space for tragedy in this untrue retelling of Diana’s life and as her death grows closer it would be fair for the audience to have some concern about how this might be handled. Karp’s production is undeniably tasteless but there is great sympathy for her tragic end too. This is a fantastical and campy ‘what if’ made by and for the queer community whom Diana greatly supported and in turn has been immortalised as a gay icon. There are moments where some will certainly take offense, but the play is clearly devised and delivered with good humour and an awareness of its absurdity.
You may think that you will know what to expect in Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story based on its eponymous lead’s notoriety. But nothing can prepare you for the exceptional creativity, insanity and uniqueness of this production and its talented cast. The show – enjoyable in its own right – will also leave any audience member excited for whatever Karp decides to do next.
Reviewed on 10th November 2022
by Flora Doble
Photography by Dave Bird
Previously reviewed at this venue: