'The Interview' review – this royal drama revisits Princess Diana and Martin Bashir's explosive BBC broadcast
Read our two-star review of The Interview, starring Yolanda Kettle as Princess Diana, now in performances at the Park Theatre to 25 November.
In 1995, Princess Diana was bursting to spill the beans about her broken marriage and the miseries of royal life. Courted by all the world’s most celebrated interviewers, it was Martin Bashir of the BBC’s Panorama who earned her trust and got the gig.
Twenty-five years later, it was revealed that Bashir used underhand methods to obtain the interview; his career is over and his reputation is mud. It’s impossible to banish it from memory, but the interview itself will never be seen again in its entirety – Prince William has made sure of that.
The Interview charts the lead-up to this landmark broadcast and its aftermath. Investigative journalist-turned-playwright Jonathan Maitland, who has previously presented plays about Boris Johnson and Jimmy Savile, had something of a front-row seat as he worked with Bashir at ITV for six years and they were friendly, if not friends.
Unfortunately, this play exposes all the clunky pitfalls of biographical drama and makes the not entirely convincing suggestion that Bashir personally ushered in the post-truth era. While aiming for a noirish feel via a cat-and-mouse transactional courtship with a touch of flirtation in the first half, and a more surreal second half, the dry production with its bitty scenes and harsh strip lighting has all the atmosphere of the car park in which one of the assignations apparently took place.
Yolanda Kettle, in her helmet of a wig, is a remarkable physical match for the people’s princess, and with her studied impassivity and glassy eye contact, her motivations, fittingly, are the hardest to read. Jarringly, however, there’s a mocking note to the characterisation in the way she discovers the wonders of Marks & Spencer ready meals, flirts with John Major and thinks that she should have been involved in the Northern Ireland peace talks.
Encouraged by her friend Luciana (a brisk Naomi Frederick, who would be ideal casting for Emily Maitlis when there’s inevitably a play about Prince Andrew) to use the opportunity to magnanimously forgive Charles, what she eventually divulges is a bit more juicy.
As Bashir, Tibi Fortes is convincing as the ambitious young journalist turned self-righteous disgraced doyen. He's also rather delusional about viewing Diana and himself as a pair of outsiders – the working-class British-Pakistani boy attempting to be accepted by the BBC establishment, and a girl from Norfolk marrying into the royal family – seemingly forgetting that Diana was the daughter of an earl, not a farm labourer.
Furthermore, the decision to have the revolting royal butler Paul Burrell (Matthew Flynn brings plenty of smarm) as narrator and moral conscience is strange indeed and needs to be laced with far more acidity and irony.
Many will object to the way in which Maitland puts words into the mouth of a dead woman about being disappointed that the son she adored has silenced her again. While it’s of course understandable that William is protective of his mother’s legacy, I was left inclined to agree that the BBC has been cowardly in kowtowing to the future king in this way.
There’s no shortage of royal-related drama around to consume: The Crown is ridiculous in many ways but it knows how to draw you in, and so-kitschy-it’s-brilliant Broadway musical flop Diana is coming to London for one night only next month. This offering has the potential to be a punchy addition to the canon but in its present form is bit of a limp royal mess.
Photo credit: The Interview (Photo by Pamela Raith Photography)
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