Just over a year ago, I did a review of a Welsh-infused musical titled For Tonight (which you can read about at https://rhysreviews.com/2021/07/29/for-tonight-recording-review/) where I talked about how despite usually being simply content with my Welsh culture, my intense patriotism can be triggered in the most random of situations. Despite not being alive when she died (or fully understanding her contribution to minority groups), any conversation surrounding the most iconic princess of Wales Diana Spencer is one of those situations! Now I am by no means the biggest fan of the royal family but I think everyone can agree that Diana broke the mould of what the everyday person can expect from the royals. Before making the journey to the wonderful Alma tavern and theatre in Bristol, we had the wonderful opportunity to sit down and chat with Linus about his upcoming tour (which is available at https://youtu.be/tOkYyy4x2Lw) where we were promised an evening of fabulous, queer-infused fun and that was absolutely what we were given!
Over the past couple of years there has been a plethora of shows that have aimed to explore the life of princess Diana Spencer most recently the infamous movie musical version (which you can read about at https://www.nerdly.co.uk/2021/10/06/diana-the-musical-review-netflix/) and a musical album (which you can read about at https://rhysreviews.com/2021/09/27/princess-dianna-the-musical-recording-review/) but ‘Diana: the untold and untrue story documents Linus Karp’s unique, fantasy version of the life and times of the beloved princess of Wales Princess Diana. Now Linus’ version of events does alter quite significantly from what actually happened in real life so I would not recommend walking into the show thinking you are going to see a biographical and historically accurate depiction of Diana’s story. Most significantly in this play the people’s princess does not get killed during a car crash in Paris but instead turns around (after almost pantomime-Esque instruction from the audience), goes on the compete on Ru Paul’s drag race, wins an Oscar and gets given the gift of eternal life! You would be right to think that these changes are quite radical and extremely far-fetched but Linus and the time have managed to create a narrative that acknowledges this yet still goes ahead with it anyway.
Having seen Linus’ previous work virtually (with our review of How to live a Jellicle life available at https://rhysreviews.com/2022/07/28/how-to-love-a-jellicle-life-production-review/) I knew that he had a passion for the more eccentric side of theatre but I was not prepared for the explosion of queer chaos that ‘Diana’ very quickly became! This version of the story starts with the birth of Diana where two random audience members are invited onto the stage to take on the role of the two parents. After reading a series of pre-scripted lines and depicting an extremely upper-class sexual encounter, Linus as Diana suddenly emerges with a rather uncanny resemblance to the people’s princess in her younger years! Before the show officially began we were given a small Oscar trophy and instructed to at an obvious point grace the stand to award Diana the statue what we were not expecting, however, is that throughout the course of the evening I was also given the role of a royal nanny. This later job came with a baby doll to hold throughout the majority of the show and even attempt to read a few scripted lines when called on stage. The reason I say attempted is that while we were on stage a rather terrifying Camila Parker Bowles puppet (manned by Joseph Martin with the most vigour and enthusiasm I have seen in a very long time) was twisting and contouring while roaring at me and my fellow nanny for the night demanding we hand over the babies. Throughout the evening the majority of audience members were given roles to perform in the show or at least had something to do which led to absolute hilarity and chaos! We have talked numerous times about how difficult it is to keep the attention of an audience in a one-person production (most recently in our review of https://rhysreviews.com/2022/11/10/aion-experience-review/) but not only does Linus appear to excel in this situation but he is even able to interact with the audience which can be a bit of unpredictable situation. In this show in particular he was able to navigate unwilling participants, audience members missing lines and addressing tipped drinks (caused by his own wedding train) without them having a massive impact on the course of the show. The play itself has been cleverly written in order to allow this wonderful array of audience participation without being totally reliant on the people chosen which means that if things do go wrong the play can continue!
Not only did this self-proclaimed “least one man production to ever exist” contain audience participation by the bucket full but also regular pre-recorded messages from the queen portrayed beautifully by Geri Allen. Not only were these videos used to transition between scenes (where Linus needed to change for example) but also they were cleverly timed so that the queen and our on-stage Diana could have a conversation which fills me with anxiousness just thinking about the logistics of that! The fact that Linus had to, at some point, write and record Geri performing this role, time the gaps between phrases to write and perform the desired lines in a way that made it look as if they were talking to one another is such an impressive feat of organisation and the acting ability for both performers involved! Obviously, Diana is known for helping to campaign the aids campaign and even going as far as controversially hugging those with the disease. This pop culture moment was referenced through ‘Diana: the untold and untrue story’ and even transitions into a powerful message about unity and queer rights! The queer inclusion was not simply just a single moment in the show to appeal to a potential but instead was embedded throughout the entire show. Linus spent the majority of his one-person play on drag (under the tutelage of the incredible drag performer Carrot) as the princess including donning the infamous revenge dress and the incredible wedding dress, there was a moment where Diana began voguing into stage and even proudly waving a pride flag! To help ease the intensity of these political (yet extremely important) messages the show was also sprinkled with various nods to come dine with me including THAT memorable speech after a contestant had revealed they did not win!
Overall, Diana: the untold and untrue story is a hilarious version of the life and times of the people’s princess without taking the mick. While this is in definition a parody of the character there is no point where Linus talks ill of Diana, which shows very clever writing and planning, yet does offer a critique of the royal family. There is strong language and adult themes throughout the entire play making it suitable for a more mature audience. I don’t think there was a single moment throughout the entire hour production that I was not overcome with laughter which goes to show Linus’ gift for entertaining audiences! This was the perfect pick me up after a long week of work/travelling and I recommend that people check out if it is coming to a town near you after Christmas (which can be done at https://linktr.ee/untruediana) as I am sure you will leave feeling happier than when you walked in! I would rate this show 5 out of 5 stars!