Review by Sam Waite
In 2021, Michael Fentiman was among the first directors to have his work back on the West End following more than a year of shuttered theatres, bringing The Windsors: Endgame to the Prince of Wales. Two years on from the end of The Windsors’ run, Fentiman is once again tackling the monarchy, and our collective relationship with them, with Jonathan Maitland’s The Interview at London’s Park Theatre.
Based around the legendary Panorama episode in which the late Princess of Wales sat for a strikingly open conversation with a then little-known Martin Bashir, The Interview wastes little time in rehashing what will be remembered by many, and heard about by most others. The play’s first act concerns the events and revelations (falsified and otherwise) that led to Diana’a agreeing to the interview, while the second focuses on the aftereffects not only then but in recent years as Prince William, Diana’s eldest son, has spoken out against not only the broadcast but the methods used to attain it.
Tibu Fortes approaches the role of Bashir as any actor ought to approach any role – he doesn't lean too far into the deceptive and manipulative movements or play the insistence that he's done nothing wrong with self-righteous indigence. Fortes’ Bashir isn't the hero or the villain of the narrative, but a man trying to do what he thinks is best and making what he believably decides are worthy sacrifices to a better cause. This commitment to playing the role as neither good nor outright bad helps to support a central question in Maitland’s script – just because the conversation came together through unscrupulous and even illegal methods, does that mean it's content should be disregarded, or that its existence wasn't, to some degree, necessary?
Naomi Frederick and Ciarán Owens, a cast member of Fentiman’s Windsors, play dual roles, with Frederick as Diana’s confidante Luciana and hilarious as a BBC executive more concerned with looking respectable than being decent. The conviction as she changes her stance to the exact opposite of her view form only moments before, always firmly insistent it's how she's always felt, is delightful and adds a lightness to a more dramatic second half. Owens, having previously played Prince William in a decidedly more comic affair, also impresses as a fumbling BBC rep, but is particularly compelling as Matt Weissler, the graphic designer enlisted in Bashir's deception, who put aside his own conflicted morals in favour of his belief in the BBC as the arbiter of truth.
Throughly enjoyable if slightly underused, Matthew Flynn brings a genuine, good-natured humour to Paul Burrell, Diana’s butler. Flynn’s breezy, congenial relationship with Fortes’ Bashir is essential to our understanding of how the journalist managed to have such complete access to the Princess, and his chemistry with the leading lady is no less believable. In act two, and in a framing scene at the top of the performance, Flynn also brings real weight and a wealth of regret to an older, more wizened man looking back and wondering if things ever ought to have happened the way they did.
Maitland's script cleverly opts to deal in questions and possibilities rather than in absolutes or decisions of his own creation. Both Martin and Diana are open to others about how in control of the dynamic they feel, with her telling Luciana he's wrapped around her finger just before he reveals how he's already manipulated her. Moving into the modern day, Maitland's also poses tough questions around the interview’s continued legacy – should Diana’s words be silenced because of how they were attained? Just because she was lied to before giving these answers, does that make the words any less true?
Of course, this story couldn't be told without some insight into Diana herself. Endlessly fascinating to the public, with Kristen Stewart’s portrayal in Spencer netting an Oscar nomination just last year, the Princess of Wales is a challenging part for a multitude of reasons. Chiefly, the audience already knows her, or their imagined version of her, so fully. Yolanda Kettle slips easily into the role, matching that barely-disguised anxiety underneath an air of cool, collected confidence. The voice and accent, so distinct and so fondly remembered, become more prominent both in scenes where Diana’s dialogue has a touch of artifice, where she is perhaps hiding herself in plain sight, and in a later scene where Kettle is playing not the real woman, but Bashir’s imagined version of her. In this way, Kettle is also in a sort of dual role – Lady Diana, and The People’s Princess, not who she was but who we all chose to see.
Presenting the work in the round, Fentiman brings an assurance to his direction that the sprawling, chaotic Windsors struggled to achieve. Here his actors prowl around one another in one scene, before standing their ground both literally and metaphorically in the next – the audience feels included as observers of a real-time event, not least of all thanks to key moments with characters sat among them. Sami Fendall’s empty stage increasingly feels less like a lack of set and more like a representation of how open to the world everything in this woman’s life was, and how inextricably linked to this kind of story its audience becomes.
Perhaps likely to reopen debates around journalistic integrity and the commodification of figures whose lives are lived, with or without their consent, in the eyes of an insatiable public, The Interview will have both supporters and naysayers among Diana’s still-sizeable fan-base. Insightful but bordering on self-congratulatory in how willing the work is to explore all parties as flawed, deeply human figures, the play is another strong work for the Park Theatre, and will certainly get people talking – even, perhaps more so, those who don’t enjoy it!
The Interview plays at the Park Theatre until November 25th
For tickets and information visit https://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-interview
Photos by Pamela Raith