The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows, and various online archives preserve still
more vintage productions. Even as things return to normal we
continue to review the experience of watching live theatre
Original Theatre Online January 2024
Original Theatre's production of Jonathan Maitland's new play ran at the Park Theatre, London, during the autumn of 2023 and is now available online.
The titular Interview is the one that Diana, Princess of Wales, gave to Martin Bashir of the BBC in 1995, the “There were three people in that marriage” broadcast that was one of the opening salvoes in her war with then-Prince Charles and the whole Royal Family.
We actually see only the tiniest of snippets of the interview, as Maitland's real subjects are the dance of mutual seduction and manipulation between Diana and Bashir before the event and a surprising after-effect a quarter-century later.
In Maitland's eyes both interviewer and subject had hidden agendas for the interview, and devoted a lot of energy to make sure the other played the role they wanted them to.
Yolanda Kettle plays Diana as knowing this event will define her in the public perception once the war begins and using all the seductively feminine wiles that were familiar parts of Diana's arsenal – the lowered head and upturned glance to signal vulnerability, the wide-eyed focus entirely on the person she's with, the hints of chaste sexuality in the shy half-smile.
The very first thing she does in the play is find an excuse (a bit of fluff on his jacket) to touch Bashir, and you can see the electric charge between them.
Tibu Fortes defines his Bashir by a mix of professional and personal ambition. He is out for the scoop of his life, but also a way to break through the discrimination against him he senses within the BBC as an Asian just outside the Old Boy Network.
The play actually has him describe that prejudice to Diana, in an attempt to make them seem allies in an outsiders-against-the-establishment revolt.
Neither of the pair comes out looking particularly good in this half of the play. We watch Bashir tell the same presumably untrue story, almost word-for-word, to two different people, making each the hero, and we see Diana studying a script, rehearsing what will seem like spontaneous comments in the interview into polished sound bites.
(There are others in the cast, the only significant third character being Diana's aide Paul Burrell, played by Matthew Flynn as unctuously subservient on the surface but relishing his self-appointed role as Diana's white knight and protector.)
The interview happens during the play's interval, and everyone seems to have achieved their goals, Diana establishing herself as the victimised outsider and Bashir hailed as a hero by the BBC. And then we jump ahead twenty-five years.
It came out in the 2020s that as part of his campaign to win Diana's trust Bashir had forged some documents that seemed to support Diana's suspicion that the Royal Family – or at least those working for them – had been leaking stories designed to discredit her.
Now, neither in real life nor in the play has this ever seemed to me more than a petty bit of chicanery, but both in real life and in the play it is treated as a major crime.
The second half of Maitland's play shows the BBC putting all the blame on Bashir, disowning him and the interview, and essentially throwing him under the bus.
Evidently the “looking out for yourself” mentality that seemed mildly amusing in the First Act can be really nasty as well.
The fact that the play breaks into two halves is its biggest weakness and the inevitable all-but-complete disappearance of Diana from the later scenes loses its literally most attractive character.
But both as re-imagining of history – along with everything else both lead actors give excellent and evocative imitations of their characters – and as object lesson in not expecting too much purity from people or institutions, The Interview is engaging and thought-provoking.
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