Words by Ali Arief, Theatre Editor
On the 1st of October, an absolute lesson in complete distaste is going to hit your Netflix account overnight. Unless you’ve been living underneath a royalty free rock for the past two years, you will know Princess Diana, the memory, not the person, is back into the media zeitgeist with a zeal. It first started when Netflix released their cinematic masterpiece ‘The Crown’, with up-and-coming Emma Corrin starring as Diana. The Crown’s portrayal of the deceased former Princess of Wales felt refreshingly realistic. We saw a portrayal of Diana that was empathetic, yet critical. In essence, we saw Diana as a human being rather than a heretic traitor, or an angelic martyr.
After the release of The Crown, it seems as if Diana mania is back from the 90s. Kristen Stewart will be playing Diana in the up-and-coming movie ‘Spencer’ which shall be released in UK & Irish Cinemas on the 5th of November, and in the interim, there will be a Princess Diana musical released on Netflix titled ‘Diana’ which will also have its own Broadway run to go with it.
Forgive me for being crass, but I absolutely despise the idea of this. It’s not because I’m not a musical person, admittedly I am, however this musical is leaving a funny taste in my mouth. Whilst I’m aware that musicals can be made from anything these days (See ‘NHS, The Musical’ and ‘Human Centipede: The Musical’) I feel as if there has to be a limit somewhere.
I believe depictions of Diana’s life are extremely necessary. For those unaware, Diana Spencer married into the British Royal Family when she was only nineteen, and from that point on was attacked, stalked and hounded by the press until she was killed in a car accident whilst driving away from paparazzi. The tragedy is a horrific reminder of how incessantly evil the British tabloids can be, and I truly believe that the more people hear of her story, the better. Hence why the portrayal of Diana in The Crown was so effective, a lot of the episodes were focused on her struggle with the press and how she navigated her public life being the wife of a future King, whilst also wanting and striving for her own sense of individuality. Whilst ‘The Crown’ was focused on some areas of her personal life, we also were given an extremely accurate portrayal of how she dealt with being constantly in the public eye. I’m hoping the film ‘Spencer’ will do the same.
This musical seems to be doing the exact opposite. Intent on retelling the scandalous infidelity of her marriage with Prince Charles, the musical seems to be relying on camp theatrics, ballads and shocking scenes revealing Diana’s battles and struggles with self-harm, suicidal thoughts and bulimia. Of course, musicals can appropriately deal with these themes, Spring Awakening comes to mind. However, with the extremely cheesy Broadway bells and whistles, I can’t help thinking that this musical is going to be everything that Diana was trying to get away from. Broadway seems to be following a certain trend, with movie genre releases such as Frozen and Moulin Rouge! Getting their own stage adaptations, it seems as if the current flavour is nostalgia. I am concerned that this level of nostalgia would be like reliving a collective trauma and is only exploiting her story not celebrating her life.
Even though I am extremely critical of this musical I do intend to watch it when it has its Netflix release. I fully intend to watch it and give it a review just to see how tasteless and tone-deaf Broadway can be, or perhaps I will be surprised at how they handle this extremely delicate subject matter. Whilst we do not need this musical, I do believe that it serves as a direct example of how not to portray her story and the tragedy that befell her. The memory of Diana’s personal life needs to be laid to rest. It’s time we focus on what was a leading factor in her death.