‘Diana: The Musical’ is quite baffling in its crudity – but then it’s baffling that it exists at all. One cringes as the Princess of Wales’ life is boiled down to silly lyrics and garish performances. It also lacks any self-awareness that it’s portraying Diana’s death as the tragic result of being hounded as a celebrity – while also attempting to make a quick buck off her name.
With an opening shot that makes her look more like Mary Poppins than Princess Diana, our lead Jeanna de Waal starts singing about being lonely and ‘Underestimated’. We flash back as the Queen (Judy Kaye) starts singing about her son Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf) not being able to find a suitable wife (“This is matricide!”) in a song titled ‘The Worst Job in England’. Clearly this is written from an American perspective – there’s a lyric later on that goes “A girl can look rather skittish// When her designers are boring and British.”
At first, Diana is depicted as young and naïve as Charles starts to court her, while also seeing Camilla Parker Bowles (Erin Davie) on the side (a love affair ‘Diana: The Musical’ seems to be obsessed with, but never manages to make look sympathetic). Before becoming “self-actualised” by the end (following a hammy and completely ridiculous exchange with Her Highness), Diana is portrayed as a twit and an awful whinger. Then again, not one of the leads is all that pleasant as Camilla is conniving, Charles a selfish moan, and the Queen a berating, undignified mammy.
Oh yes, and a very pink Barbara Cartland (Kaye), the novelist, turns up at a couple of points (her line “Ok I just made up those bits of dialogue, but aren’t they delicious?” being all too reflective of the many, many inaccuracies of ‘Diana: The Musical’). During her second appearance, a topless James Hewitt (Gareth Keegan) appears in a number where women swoon all around him. In a way then, the first half of the musical is better, because you can’t look away from the absolute disaster that’s unfurling before your eyes.
The dialogue and forced confrontations between Diana and Camilla, as well as Diana and Charles, and Charles and Elizabeth, is never-ending and painful. The musical is also just very, very strange with moments like Diana being stripped of her skirt, then carried across stage to play a viola as she sings of the Prince: “Perhaps this girl can turn him into a rocker”. There’s an obsession, in fact, with Diana’s wardrobe – though the recreations of her outfits onstage are ghastly and unrefined – with a later number being dedicated to her wearing a “feckity feckity feck-you dress”.
There’s much focus on the paparazzi’s role in Diana’s story, which one supposes makes for good lights aesthetics on stage. As a musical, it’s typical in many ways, but it also lacks any real earworm, and is all very forgettable, one barely recalling musical refrains that pop up later. There’s a number dedicated to Diana’s work with AIDs victims, which one supposes is a nice touch (God knows there were other points from Diana’s life that one is baffled by their inclusion here, and a general absence of facts over sensationalism and fiction). But as she sings while shaking their hands, and the musical quickly moves onto the next chapter, the whole thing just feels meaningless.
‘Diana: The Musical’ then just kind of ends, and one is relieved that they didn’t attempt to stage the crash (you wouldn’t put it past them when everything else is so crude). Certainly if the Royal family was offended by the inaccuracies of ‘The Crown’, they’ll want to stay well away from this one – even if it is on as accessible a platform as Netflix.