Camden Fringe 2013
It is 1992 and ‘Honest John’ Major is Prime Minister. The world is enraptured by the doe-eyed elegance of Diana, Princess of Wales, while her husband Charles wallows in ill-concealed envy at his lack of public attention. The perceived sleaze and corruption of the Tory party is good fodder for the press, but a growing hunger for intimate details of the royals’ private lives is overtaking the public’s interest in politics; a trend lead by the callous young upstart, Brook Trueprint and her minion, Pap. When ‘Call-me-Tony’ bursts onto the scene, coinciding with a pair of Royal divorces, a new wave begins, a breaking of the tired old format. But, does anything ever really change…?
The cast take the audience on a trip from 1992 to 1997, the moment of Diana’s death, which is as much nostalgic as it is political and social. We see the grey blandness of John Major replaced by the clown-like, almost freakish exuberance of Tony Blair (both played excellently by Stephen Russell); we are given a glimpse into the Queen’s private despair and ultimate resilience to the challenges facing the Royal family; and we see Brook Trueprint (representing Rebekah Brooks) transform from a gossip-loving office junior to the cold-blooded mediahound, and ‘inventor’ of phone-hacking, we are familiar with today.
The play takes the form of a Shakespearean comedy: the actors gather onstage to present a prelude, written in iambic pentametre, complete with bawdy sides and inter-cast bickering. Much of the prose is delivered in this way, and there are some genuinely convincing ‘Shakespearean’ snippets at points.
The action is frequently punctuated by raucous 90s pop songs, reflective of the scene at hand: ‘Park Life’ is sung out to reflect Charles’ desire to appeal to the common populace, and a rendition of ‘Universal’ strikes a particularly poignant note when comparing Diana to The Duchess of Cambridge. However, at times the songs come across forced and are perhaps a little too frequent: in general, the play would benefit from allowing the audience a moment to get stuck in to the action without being constantly pulled away.
Similarly, some performances were over-egged and lacked subtlety, denying us the chance to pick up the undertones and insinuations that are so wonderful for an audience member. Having said that, there are some very good performances: Russell convincingly transforms from John Major to Tony Blair, playing the caricature with truthfulness and causing much laughter: it worked very well having both leaders played by the same actor. Equally, Sarah Lowes’ performance as the discerning, political and slightly depressive Broadsheet is convincing, and her portrayal of The Queen is fresh and gratifying to watch. This play is well worth watching, and I think that with some more development, it could be destined for great things.