Last Updated on 2nd November 2023
Jonathan Maitland’s new play, The Interview, at London’s Park Theatre explores issues around Martin Bashir’s controversial TV interview with Diana Princess of Wales
Park Theatre, London
Jonathan Maitland has explored controversial figures such as Jimmy Savile, Boris Johnson and Margaret Thatcher through previous stage plays and now he puts the spotlight on the infamous TV interview between Diana Princess of Wales and Martin Bashir on BBC Panorama in 1995. In The Interview, he examines the subtle dance of negotiation that took place between the two in the run-up to the broadcast, raising questions about how much Diana was in control of the situation and how much she was a victim of the determined journalist’s cunning manipulation and his faking of bank statements.
But Maitland is doing more than just telling a speculative story of what happened behind the scenes. Framed as looking back at events from the perspective of the present day, the drama opens up to wrestle with bigger issues around what is truth and who sets the “agreed narrative” – who gets to tell our stories. It references the 2002 “dodgy dossier” about weapons of mass destruction and, more recently, how the mainstream media, established experts and empirically proven facts are no longer seen by many as trustworthy. It also brings in the ethics of journalism, the role of the BBC and the Establishment, and the place of the royal family. But it doesn’t delve too deeply into any of these, concerned more with asking questions than answering them.
The production benefits from excellent performances led by Yolanda Kettle who brings Diana to life with a gentle steeliness and charm mixed with vulnerability, topped off with a sharp sense of humour. Tibu Fortes gives a strong performance as Bashir but the character remains more of an enigma, portrayed as little more than an intense, sometimes resentful journalist determined to get his story at any cost. Matthew Flynn shines as an engaging Paul Burrell, Diana’s butler and confidant, while Naomi Frederick’s Luciana engagingly represents the friends that Diana talked to after she decided to fight back in response to Charles’ interview with Jonathan Dimbleby.
The interview itself barely features, glimpsed only through re-created snippets from the post-production editing. In fact, the play highlights that the BBC’s pledge to ban further broadcasts and remove the programme from its platforms means that the former wife of King Charles III has conveniently also been silenced. Directed by Michael Fentiman, it is an absorbing, intelligent piece of theatre, maintaining focus as it shifts into more abstract territory in the second half that suits Emily Irish’s shadowy lighting design. While it avoids easy, black-and-white answers, The Interview is sure to elicit plenty of debate for anyone who sees the show.
Running at Park Theatre in London to 25 November 2023.
Reviewed by Stephen James
Stephen James is a London-based writer and journalist who has been covering theatre in the UK and the US for over 10 years.