THE INTERVIEW at the Park Theatre
“Maitland’s writing and Kettle’s performance gives us a Diana that is multi-dimensional”
There is an eminent fascination with Diana, the people’s princess. More than twenty-five years after her death there are TV shows, documentaries and musicals all seeking to understand something of her, or to simply draw in the viewers. Jonathan Maitland’s original play at the Park Theatre zones in on just one interview between the princess and a reporter.
The interview in question is Princess Diana’s 1995 BBC Panorama interview with Martin Bashir. A watershed moment, the innocuous title ‘An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales’ belied the explosive revelations made by the princess about her relationship with her husband Prince Charles, the Queen, and the rest of the royal family as well as shocking revelations about her own mental health. It was explosive stuff, hailed at the time by the BBC as ‘the scoop of a generation’. But in 2021 the BBC has vowed never to broadcast the interview again or license it to others due to Bashir’s foul-play in securing the interview.
Maitland’s play, under Michael Fentiman’s direction, explores the events leading up to the interview from the perspective of both parties, attempting to leave us asking whether this really was a one-sided manipulation on the part of Bashir, or whether Diana had more agency than critics today would have you believe.
Diana is well written and charismatically portrayed by Yolanda Kettle. With recent portrayals from Emma Corrin and Elizabeth Debicki in The Crown to Kristen Stewart in Spencer, there is no shortage of Diana content for comparison, and whilst it’s difficult to make a Diana feel fresh, Kettle does so with humour, emphasising the princess’s lighter side. She makes jokes about the music she chooses to play to avoid her conversation with Bashir being picked up by bugging devices as being about a woman who murders her adulterous husband, and has a great retort about why her sister said she should go through with the wedding despite reservations. Maitland’s writing and Kettle’s performance gives us a Diana that is multi-dimensional – light-hearted yet deeply hurt by her husband, strong-willed yet insecure, paranoid yet with good reason.
“the lights fade, and the audience groans, having been teased with what would have been the highlight of the evening”
Sami Fendall’s costume design is peak 90s with Diana’s ‘off-duty princess’ styling of belted dark rinse Levi 501s and a tucked in white shirt. Her short bouffant crop looks almost comically voluminous but is actually pretty spot on when compared to the stills from the interview itself.
Tibu Fortes as Martin Bashir is incredibly sincere and despite his refrain that he and Diana are the same, outsiders, in many ways his character stands in stark contrast. Whereas Diana is emotionally complex, Bashir seems to have only one motivation – to score the interview of a generation by doing whatever he needs to do to get it. Maitland’s choice to have Bashir use the same story about his dead brother to endear himself to Diana and her Butler is Machiavellian and makes us wonder whether he even had a brother at all. Act II focuses in on Bashir through the editing process and the fallout does him few favours. However, the suggestion that the fraudulent methods used to get the interview were the start of a long line of truth doctoring that stretched forward through Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’ to Trump was a ham-fisted stretch.
It’s also an odd choice to have much of the first act narrated by Diana’s infamous butler, Paul Burrell. His character is almost totally redundant, other than perhaps to show that even those close to Diana were looking for ways to elevate themselves at her expense. A much more interesting aide is Luciana, wittily played by Naomi Frederick, perhaps a press or media secretary or just a close confidante who comes from the same world as Diana but seems to understand what she’s going through.
The second act does let this piece down, swapping conversations between the princess and the reporter for dry ethical conversations between the broadcaster and his BBC bosses. It starts to look up when the Kettle as Diana re-emerges after a long absence and converses with Bashir as if from beyond the grave, arguing that despite the foul-play, those were words she wanted the world to hear. Chairs appear carried by other cast members and you start to hope we will see some of the interview recreated live. But then the lights fade, and the audience groans, having been teased with what would have been the highlight of the evening – Diana live and self-scripted as she intended to be.
THE INTERVIEW at the Park Theatre
Reviewed on 1st November 2023
by Amber Woodward
Photography by Pamela Raith
Previously reviewed at this venue: