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The BBC’s controversial 1995 interview with Princess Diana is the focus of Original Theatre’s latest online production, which is available for streaming from 21st December onwards. The play originally ran at The Park Theatre in October, before being adapted into a theatrical film for online screening. Once celebrated for its insight into the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales, concerns were quickly raised about how Martin Bashir managed to secure access to Diana for Panorama, bringing ethics into question.
Jonathan Maitland has created a play that examines and fictionalises the actions leading up to the interview, the recording itself and the aftermath. In a world where we have to be wary of fake news, audiences are encouraged to look at the events through a modern day perspective and reflect on why it took 25 years for concerns to have any weight. Directed by Michael Fentiman, the play takes a moment of media history and deliberates on its legacy, highlighting how society has changed through theatre.
Importance of context
The play starts with some dramatic narration from Diana’s staff member Paul (Matthew Flynn) who is looking back on the secretive conversations between the Princess (Yolanda Kettle) and Martin Bashir (Tibu Fortes) that led to the renowned interview. The show is fast paced, covering the lead up to the filming, the televised segment and ending with the independent review in 2020. Whilst the speed allows the material to continuously build in tension, the lack of further character introductions and assumption that viewers are aware of the interview circumstances, makes it difficult to keep up. As somebody who wasn’t born when the interview aired, I found the decision to only focus on certain exchanges slightly disrupted my overall experience. A specific example is when Bashir validates Diana’s fears and worries; I had limited prior knowledge about the alleged surveillance and context within the play is limited.
Using theatre as an investigative tool
It takes on an investigative approach, trying to piece together what happened in real life. The core of the narrative is based on true events, but Maitland has used creative licence and hearsay to fill in the blanks. I was impressed by the bravery in the writing, getting the audience to think about the danger of ambition, against the backdrop of the discreet filming process. I think it could have gone a step further though, recreating more of the supposed discussions that influenced the interview. The ‘editing process’ segment was also incredibly insightful and says a lot about the character of Bashir, but this is sadly time-boxed in order to stick to the 25 year timeline.
Character representation and past performances
Whilst Kettle and Fortes perform strongly as individuals, I found the relationship between the Princess and journalist to be a little awkward in places. Bashir uses uncomfortable flattery to convince Diana to do the interview and for me this is where I lost faith in the characters and work, as the mannerisms are extremely dramatised. Fortunately the dynamic recovers during the actual interview, when the questions are asked on camera.
The play transcends well to recorded material, thanks to Matt Hargraves’ intrusive camera work, the overall cinematic style and the use of varying colour palettes. Initially I thought that black and white versus colour was used to distinguish between on and off-the-record conversations, but on reflection the content didn’t always follow this trend. Greater clarity around the creative decision would better visualise what was actually caught on camera and what wasn’t.
Accessing Original Theatre’s The Interview online
Jonathan Maitland’s work is dramatic and intriguing, but in an attempt to cover a complex timeline, it scratches the surface of the situation. It falls short in terms of depth, focusing on the interview production process instead of Diana and Bashir, leading to underdeveloped characters. Regardless it is a thought provoking watch, with the show available for rent for £5.99 via Original Theatre’s website (48 hours of access). Alternatively you can access the company’s portfolio of award-winning entertainment by subscribing from £8.99 per month.
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*I was given press access to The Interview in exchange for a review.