Almost four decades have elapsed since Diana, Princess of Wales, married Prince Charles in a fairy-tale wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Their union on the surface appeared to be staid, conservative, upper class perfection. Indeed, in the world’s estimation the joining of two icons manifested the finest “to be envied” royal exceptionalism! This month their second son Prince Harry married a mixed-race, divorced, American actress, Meghan Markle. Their union is the antithesis of the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981 in every way imaginable. How did the monarchy move from conservative traditionalism to modernism and refreshing humanity as exemplified by Prince Harry’s choice to marry Meghan Markle?
The Diana Tapes, written by James Clements and presented by What Will the Neighbors Say, identifies the catalyst. Princess Diana’s decision to reveal the truth behind her life as a royal eventually brought about an amazing reformation. Her need to expose the suffering and misery she experienced as Prince Charles’ wife upended the hypocrisy of the British monarchy. Due to her actions, Prince Charles revealed the unhappiness of their relationship and set in motion events which led to their divorce. It also inspired Prince Harry to look beyond elitist externals and select someone he loved and found happiness with. Perhaps that is the greatest honor Prince Harry bestows on his mother in remembrance of her influence and love.
The Diana Tapes, directed by Wednesday Derrico, reveals nothing especially earth-shattering. Rather, it highlights Princess Diana’s fateful decisions to make public her misery as a royal. The production cogently identifies how and why the Princess (Ana Cristina Schuler) chose to befriend the press. It also emphasizes the danger her revelations entailed and the authenticity of the taped transcripts. From these conversations, recorded by her friend James Colthurst (Jorge Morales Picó), Princess Diana leaks her life story to Andrew Morton in a special arrangement to protect herself. Morton (James Clements), keeping the source anonymous, spins the revelations into articles and a book. Princess Diana’s friends corroborate all the information, so none of it traces back to her. And publisher Michael O’Mara (Sam Hood Adrain) agrees to spill no hint of personal intrigue among Morton, Colthurst, and the Princess.
The play’s strengths highlight the questions about the Princess of Wales’ character and motivations. Clements posits that the angst and turmoil boiling within her soul prompted the revelations. Additionally, he includes her emotional sickness as a bulimic. Ironically, she blames Prince Charles for provoking this. Also, she cuts herself and attempts to abort her firstborn. This portrait of the Princess reveals that she exercises few coping strategies to heal herself. Ultimately, we recognize her tragic humanity. For she appears to be devastatingly alone in her torment and private hell. Sadly, the trappings of duty and power give her no surcease, instead adding to her misery.
We see clearly through the conversations with Colthurst the way her exposé functioned as coping strategy. To alleviate her rage, with steely cunning she uses the press in a quasi revenge plot against Prince Charles, Camilla Parker Bowles, and the Queen. This becomes part of a broader campaign to market her humanity by twisting the ferocity of the tabloids and news to her advantage. With this ingenious strategy she gains the public’s trust and love. In contrast to herself, she portrays the royals as cold, unfeeling, selfish cads.
Thus, for those unfamiliar with her entire story, Clements teases out an interesting view into Diana. This occurs especially when Colthurst (who has known her and is a friend) discusses her “new ethos.” He questions why she presents herself almost as a divine with her charitable work. Additionally, he suggests that her persona is unrecognizable. She is not the person he knows as his friend.
In these exchanges an overarching theme threads forebodingly. Diana’s use of the press to create her image and avenge herself ultimately backfires. As she makes the royals tabloid fodder in the greatest scandal since King Edward’s abdication, she sacrifices her life. Conspiracy theories aside, the run of her press adulation tragically ends in a Paris tunnel in an escape from ferocious paparazzi.
The Diana Tapes asks intriguing questions, but falters from a lack of intensity. Clements’ portrayal of Andrew Morton shines brightest. Sam Hood Adrain’s publisher creates a believable foil. To some extent Ana Cristina Schuler’s portrayal of Diana, Princess of Wales remains flat. This was primarily due to a lack of projection, not acting chops, the night I saw the performance. I and a friend in the second row couldn’t catch snuffed out words or phrases, especially at the outset of the play. The other actors warmed up to their roles with no difficulty.
The director’s staging and use of tables and boxes to create form, space, and setting worked. However, the taped conversations and interaction between friends Colthurst and Diana are key. Though this suffered through lack of projection at times, perhaps fault lies with the script. The characterization did not manifest Diana’s turmoil and inner conflict in sustained emotionalism throughout. When both actors did hit their notes and make their relationship believable, those scenes popped.