Diana means heavenly, devine. A notable bearer was Diana Spencer (1961-1997), the Princess of Wales.
I was thinking about this as I sat in a quaint, rustic theatre in this up and coming area Leslieville.
As Brucesters, you know my review/previews are a little unorthodox so bare with me as I get us there. I had an opportunity to catch a new play that is running for a short time here in Toronto. The Diana Tapes. I also had the opportunity for one on ones with all four actors which I always find extremely pleasurable. The theatre is called Red Sandcastle Theatre. This rustic and simple theatre was the perfect space for this narrative about a subject so taboo, so off broadway, that when these folks travelled from New York City I needed to be there.
I’m going to quote this theatre company’s “What Will The Neighbours Say” mission statement: “Creating theatre that examines historical, social, political, and economic narratives that have been disregarded, misrepresented, or otherwise untold in order to provoke discourse in our audience and community.” That seems like an incredibly daunting task. Setting the bar and expectation for an audience, I personally was a little nervous for this acting foursome. In “The Diana Tapes” were they going to be able to deliver this ladder of self expectation?
James Clements as Andrew Morton takes us into the bell jar.
Bruce: James tell me about your inspiration to open up this kettle of fish. I mean not an easy task.
James: I was inspired to write this piece as we approached the 20th anniversary of her death, to try and better understand her huge impact on the world and why she came to symbolize so much for so many of us. With the exponential growth of media culture, and the advent of social media, her story seemed relevant in another way too – how we present ourselves, how we wish to be seen, and what we choose to conceal. I also wanted to humanize an icon. I wanted to find her humanity rather than either defying or dismissing her.
Bruce: I certainly think you casptured the very essence of who Diana may have truly been and her importance in the world. How did you prepare yourself to play Andrew Morton?
James: In my preparations to play Andrew Morton, I studied interviews and documentaries to get a sense of his accent, his mannerisms and the way he carries himself. I was struck, as many reviewers have noted, by how similar we looked – it almost gave me a strange extra affection for him. I have also had the pleasure of emailing with him recently about the script, and getting some further sense of who he is from that. I also tried to think of my own experiences, as a Scottish person, with class, identity, and deference – the monarchy is an ancient part of British culture, for better or for worse, and my ideas of what Andrew would think of that informed my performance. I tried to embody his fears, hopes, desires, ego – and I hope I succeeded!
Bruce: You truly commanded the stage and nailed Andrew Morton, the person. Your performance was riveting. Thank you so much for your time.
James commanded the stage from lights up. I felt like he was performing for a room of 2000 in the most subtle of ways. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance. Jorge Morales Pico played the valuable role as Diana’s dearest confidant James Colthurst. As they discussed the deepest, darkest secrets of the Princess the plot built with a smart and sensitive verbiage.
Bruce: Great meeting you! Tell me what it’s like to be part of something so historically provocative.
Jorge: This show has been an absolute pleasure to work on. The writing is strong and concise, and Wednesday Derrico, our director, has managed to inject an incredible amount of nuance and significance to even the smallest moments.
Bruce: Tell me about its journey over the past year.
Jorge: The show has been in constant flux, from our beginnings at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Providence Rhode Island, New York City, and now Toronto. It has been fascinating to examine the reactions from our different audiences around our different stops, and the long journey we’ve gone through so far has given the play its own life.
Bruce: Just as Diana’s life has a life of its own. Thank you again for such a solid performance.
Jorge: Thank you.
Bruce: Sam wonderful seeing you. Sincerly. I loved your execution of Michael O’Mara. You just stole the performance and everyone was incredible. Tell me how you saw this character and how do you prepare for such a role.
Sam: Having the chance to play and delve into this role has been a great pleasure. The main challenge I faced in my preparation and performance was finding the balance between honouring who Michael O’Mara is as a real human being and what the text calls for for him as a character. In all of the interviews I could find, Michael is a mild-mannered publisher not used to actually speaking to people outside of his office. In the script however, he is a bombastic and passionate man who believes what he is doing is an act of social revolution.
Bruce: You seemed to transform yourself physically for the sake of the character.
Sam: To tap into this I used my training in Grotowsky and Physically Based Acting to create a mind / body / vocal score that acts as a container for my performance. By über Americanizing my speech, worsening my usually large posture, and finding some little self-grooming ticks (such as picking my nose or cleaning my teeth) I have, hopefully, crafted a performance that is both true to the text and the person himself.
Bruce: It was incredible to watch. I couldn’t take my eyes of you. Wonderful man! Great meeting you.
I just want to call the man Sam! Sam Hood Adrain wore his role as Michael O’Mara like a glove. The quirky provoking Scrooge pushing Andrew to a questionable soulless tight rope walk between historical relevance and sleazy gossip columnist was artistically brilliant.
Bruce: I came a bit early to the theatre and you were doing some stretching and deep breathing on the floor of the stage. Of course not realizing who you were I interrupted and asked where I could pick up my ticket. You were gracious and stunning. In a kind voice you gave me the information I needed from your position on the floor and I thought to myself she must be Diana The Princess of Wales. How did you prepare for such an iconic role and person?
Ana: In preparation to play such an iconic figure, I researched and studied Princess Diana as much as I could, and continue to do so. There is an abundant amount of information out there on Diana, and there is always more for me to learn. The work never stops. I watch interviews, documentaries, listened to her tapes, and have become very familiar with her life story.
Bruce: What part of Diana’s mannerisms were the most important to get right?
Ana: I was most captivated by the combination of her tight physicality and her incredible warmth. From the way Diana kept her head tilted down and her eyes gazing up, how she cracked a stiff smile every time she was asked an uncomfortable question, and her soft-spoken silk like voice.
Bruce: It was such a pleasure watching Diana come to life in your performance.
Ana: Living in these physical mannerisms are what bring Diana to life in me, and hopefully for the audience as well!
Bruce: Thank you so much, what a pleasure.
She is simply Ana Christina Schuler. I don’t know many, if any, actors who have taken on the role as one of our generations most controversial and beloved women, Princess Diana to a rave review. Not an easy story to tell and certainly a near impossible task of selling a theatrical version of the People’s Princess to a buying public.
All I can say to that is go and get yourself a ticket or two and see Ana become Diana in all of her complexities. Ana was poised, focused and captivatingly Diana. Strong, scared, confused, and dare I say manipulating? Certainly divisible alluring. Ana pealed the layers back like the shedding of the most regal of gowns. Did they achieve that enormous goal in their mission statement? Without a doubt! www.wwtns.org
4 kisses out of 5
Edited by Mary Ellen Monk
Photo credit: Pablo Calderón-Santiago
Photo credit: Bruce Christopher