PETER SMITH’S DIANA at the Soho Theatre
“Smith is best when funny – their quips are witty and well timed – but these moments are few and far between.”
Peter Smith’s DIANA is probably the most confusing show I’ve ever seen. Primarily because I don’t know who it’s meant for – certainly not lovers of the late princess or those interested in the impact of her persona. The performance is too wild, too unkept, for their liking. The genre too is muddled – are we watching cabaret, comedy, experimental theatre, spoken word, interpretive dance? Throughout the ‘play’ (and I use that word lightly), the audience is subjected to all sorts of…stuff…with no one thing ever reflected on long enough to really pack a punch.
The show has a promising start. Smith walks casually onto stage – the house lights still up – and speaks about their interest in Diana’s lost voice – a woman so visible yet so silenced. They rattle off four quotes from secret interviews which personally resonate with him. Logically, it is assumed that these four quotes will form four acts within the performance, a tether through which to always ground the performance in the life of the People’s Princess.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Two of the aforementioned quotes feature in Smith’s winding monologue but there is no structure, no clear link. Recognisable mantras do not tie the piece together but rather offer the audience some respite – finally, something we understand! That is not to say that there is anything wrong with something interpretive, but Smith’s piece is so unrelenting, so lacking in moments of reflection, that it makes it hard to not be anything other than completely baffled. In one brief moment of silence after a particularly vigorous rant, a loud ‘what?’ was heard from the front row which perfectly summed it all up, to be honest.
There are recurrent themes – death, the ego, bodily autonomy – which, with some squinting, you can relate to the late Princess of Wales. Smith’s character in itself is confusing. Are they Diana? Are they a married woman of two children, as they proclaim? Presumably, their shifting persona is to highlight the many different groups who saw Diana as their icon. However, with no distinction, even in body language, no one perspective ever comes into view.
Positively, Smith’s energy is hugely impressive. The show’s pace is high, and their speech impassioned. They jump into song with ease – they have a terrific voice – though the ditties’ relevance can’t always be deciphered. One was about women on Sundays. No, I don’t know either! Smith is best when funny – their quips are witty and well timed – but these moments are few and far between.
Five florescent light sticks create the impression of a set and props. They are a boat, a bedroom, a cigarette, a microphone. They change colour – from harsh white to warm orange to aggressive red – and flash and strobe when Smith’s ego is challenged. One assumes that the lights represent the new light shone on Diana’s life through her clandestine interviews but, like Smith’s unclear character, this is metaphor is lost amongst all the other random musings.
Costume changes are abundant. There is a certain erotism to their regular undressing – for much of the performance, Smith is shirtless in lace pantyhose – and they at one point writhe around on a makeshift bed before throwing hot wax on their leg to signify semen. Their best outfit is a puffy white gown – at first thought to be Diana’s famous wedding dress but actually more akin to a vintage clown costume. Spectacle is certainly a notable theme throughout – there is an interesting discussion on the relationship between performer and audience – but it is unfortunately another weak musing amongst a lot of unrelated drivel.
In short, what does Peter Smith’s DIANA really say? There’s certainly a lot of words and countless topics discussed – TikTok, AIDS, Barbra Streisand, paedophilia, phones – but what we should pay heed to is completely unclear. The links to Princess Diana are tenuous it feels almost insulting to use her name in its title. Proceed with caution – this is probably not the show for you!
Reviewed on 18th July 2023
by Flora Doble
Photography by Harry Elletson
Previously reviewed at this venue: