It’s happened again! Awkward Productions have created yet another warped, gobsmackingly unique, comic triumph. This time we are in the company of the deceased Princess Diana, who has descended from heaven to share with us the story of her life. It’s her version. Totally. OK, it might not be considered ‘true’ so to speak, but it’s definitely hers! The dead Princess Di is a risky subject to take on as comedy yet this play performs it with both ridiculous bad taste but also a wonderfully warm affection, paying tribute to the impact that the Princess still has on British – and particularly queer – culture. We are treated to a hilarious evening of icons, fashion, audience participation (or is it manipulation??), stunning puppetry (not necessarily in a good way) and shedloads of laughter.
Linus Karp is divine as a beautifully coy and doe-eyed Diana, played with insanely ridiculous commitment. He might actually be embodying the spirit of Di, as the characterisation never drops for an instant. The whole performance is impeccably timed and fabulously theatrical; not shying away from the drama of Diana’s story, but instead magnifying it for laughs and also to make clear what she contributed beyond her royal duties.
We are led through hilariously iconic incidents in Diana’s life and death, told in the words of a modern princess; one who still has relevance. The script doesn’t hold back in making outrageous claims about what happened to her, but there are surely some elements of truth in this oversized version of events? Those pearls round her neck might well be pearls of wisdom… We might laugh at her troubled relationship with the media, Charles and an anachronistic establishment, her penchant for total drama and fashion; but Diana is ultimately seen positively.
The show is also highly current, at this time when the royals are very much under examination. It imagines what impact Diana might have if she were still alive, celebrating her as a gay icon who questioned ways of belonging and acceptance. So singing along in cheesy tribute to her is a fabulously heart-warming and upbeat experience!
As is typical of Awkward Productions’ signature aesthetic, the production is wonderfully low budget. It uses the Powerpoint audio-visual style you may remember from How to Lead a Jellicle Life to great effect, including facilitating a visit from Queen Elizabeth (Geri Allen) and indeed God (Zina Badran). The slides also help guide some incredibly funny audience interaction, which is great fun but subtly manipulative; perhaps reflecting discreetly on the behaviour of the Princess herself in this. Sneaky!
The introduction of secondary characters as props is truly inspired. Whilst Charles is literally a cardboard cut-out of a man, Camilla is a crazed beldam puppet, reminiscent of the Other Mother from Coraline. She is superbly performed by Joseph Martin, the quietly magnificent wind beneath Karp’s larger-than-life angelic wings.
Even the costumes have been selected with particular care, succinctly capturing Diana’s iconic life moments, and providing great humour as Karp drags it up. The classic wedding dress screams comedy even before he does what he does with it… And all this is supported by a wonderfully fun complementary soundtrack that takes us from heaven to disco and back again.
Oh Linus, you extraordinary beast you. This is a magnificent piece of work – whacky, wayward and totally unique. If Diana is looking down now I am certain she’ll be joining in the fun!
Written and directed by: Linus Karp
Co-Director and Stage Manager: Joseph Martin
Produced by: Awkward Productions, Ryan Ludick and Karim-Pasha Ladbon
Design by: Amy Pitt
Choreography by: Sam Carlyle
Composed and Graphic Design by: Wez Maddocks
LX Design by: Ebbe Rodtborg
Supported by The Pleasance London, Lighthouse Poole and Arts at the Old Fire Station, Oxford.
Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story plays at Pleasance Theatre until 26 November. Further information and bookings can be found here.
The show will then be touring, with dates through to April. Confirmed dates and booking links can be found here.