BWW Review: Intricate and Compelling THE DIANA TAPES
Diana, Princess of Wales remains a fascinating figure, despite the two decades that have gone by since her death. The relatively new play, THE DIANA TAPES, by James Clements takes an interesting approach to the princess, her motivations and involvement with the tabloid writer Andrew Morton, when he wrote Diana: In Her Owns Words in 1992. Diana was typically portrayed as a beautifully fragile woman with a pure heart who was cuckolded and had a tremendous amount of difficulty in her life, but this play presents her as a canny manipulator using the press to control her own narrative, rather than allowing the royal family's media machine dictate what others think of her. It's a complicated portrait of a public figure who everyone likely has an opinion about, but also an interesting look into the potential problems created for her friends and her biographer when she decides she wants to tell her own story.
The Diana Tapes is a tightly-written one act with just four actors. Playwright James Clements takes on the role of biographer Andrew Morton with Sam Hood Adrain as Michael O'Mara, his publisher. The two of them receive and transcribe recordings made by Princess Diana's friend James Colthurst, played by Jorge Morales Pico. The attention to detail with the sets and costumes is impressive for a production barebones as this. Battered chairs are swapped for fancy ones when the scene changes from the office where Morton and O'Mara frequently meet to Diana's residence where she talks with Colthurst. Diana's iconic wedding ring, now Kate Middleton's, is replicated. While the men's costumes are necessarily basic, Diana gets several glamorous outfit changes that suit the scenes perfectly.
The role of Diana is played by Ana Cristina Schuler, who wisely steers clear of trying to mimic the princess, but rather embodies a practiced and mannered way of moving that conveys without saying anything, that she's the type of person who is used to being observed and on her best behavior at all times. Even in moments when she's clearly frustrated, she maintains a level of decorum and a perfectly straight spine. It's somewhat fascinating to watch, and she manages to make herself endearing, despite seeming so formal at times.
Clements' performance as Andrew Morton is also impressive. As a character, he's shrewd and is certainly aware of the magnitude of receiving secret correspondence from the princess, but he becomes increasingly concerned of the fallout that he will encounter by putting his name on a work with some unflattering stories about Buckingham Palace, and leaving the princess anonymous. Clements' panic at that thought is incredibly compelling--he brings just the right level of agitation to get the audience on his side, without becoming cartoonish. As the character with the most scenes/lines, the pressure is on him to make this show move at a good pace and he does an excellent job with that.
Pico and Adrain as Colthurst and O'Mara have less dramatic parts, but both are handled very well. Pico in particular has an excellent rapport with Schuler, which seems like a genuine friendship between the two of them. The addition of his nickname for her--"Dutch", for Duchess of Windsor, adds an affectionate tone, but the script is also careful not to make his character just a yes man or cardboard cut-out for Diana to talk to.
Produced by a newer theatre company called What Would the Neighbors say, THE DIANA TAPES is surprisingly polished considering the age and relative inexperience of the actors and writer. The company's website says they are based in New York, Glasgow and Toronto, so it's hard to know how much time they will be spending in Providence. That said, when they come to town again, I'll certainly be eager to see what's on offer.
The Diana Tapes runs June 9-July 2 at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG) Hub, 10 Davol Square, Providence, RI. Tickets are $15 and are available at www.wwtns.org
Photo: Jorge Morales Pico and Ana Cristina Shuler