What’s it about?
A journalist by the name of Andrew Morton must reveal Princess Diana’s true experience in the royal household to the world.
It's only a few days after the royal wedding. I'm scrolling through a series of photographs, videos, and stills filtering over my social media when I finally see her, Megan Markle, the newest Duchess. She is stunning, poised like her predecessors. She is also beaming— her joy reaches me hundreds of miles away, and although I do not know this woman, I am obscenely happy for her. I think of the little black and brown girls across the world watching her rightfully take up space in an English royal palace, what it will mean for their princess to look something like them. I feel the echoes of time and tradition folding away, and I know this is one of those moments where a tiny new world is spawning— a world of possibility, of hope.
I also think of the pressure she must feel at the gaze and demands of her newfound royalty. Sitting in the audience of the HERE Arts Center, I sense worlds new and old coalescing. I watch Princess Diana take the stage, her position not all so different from Megan’s now. Strict royal customs have eased since Diana’s rule, yet the public scrutiny and surveillance feels all too similar, if not heightened. We are invested in our public figures now more than ever. I worry for Megan especially, just as I worry for any woman under the glaring gaze of the public sphere. I hope she will never be broken, finding herself at the same end as Princess Diana who died before her.
The Diana Tapes doesn’t settle my worry; it confirms it — at least, teases it. Based on true events, the play is loosely structured around the moments leading up to and following the release of the Diana tapes: a series of video and audio recordings which revealed controversial details of the Princess’ experience in the royal palace. Turns out, the ‘People’s Princess’ was miserable— her love life with Prince Charles was painfully stunted, she was wildly depressed, and she also suffered from bulimia. For any audience members who already know these facts — myself included — the play lacks any real surprises. But The Diana Tapes does something more surprising to make up for that: it paints a picture of a scheming Princess Di, a woman who knew what she had to do to make the public sympathize with her.
As the lights went up at the end of the performance, I unlocked my phone to see a picture of Megan Markle again, the first thing on my Facebook feed. She’s sitting in a car next to her mother and both of them are waving and smiling. Could that happiness be fake? I want to believe it’s not, but The Diana Tapes left me unsettled enough to wonder in the first place.
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