Writer: Jonathan Maitland
Director: Michael Fentiman
When the BBC aired an interview with Princess Diana on 20 November 1995, it was watched by 27 million people. Diana was frank and forthcoming, discussing her battles with bulimia and mental health. Directly flouting Royal protocol, her words were nothing short of incendiary. The interview was an overnight sensation, and her interviewer, journalist Martin Bashir, scored the scoop of the decade.
The Interview, written by Jonathan Maitland, looks back at these events and also places them within a wider context, as the 25th anniversary of the interview unearthed new evidence of how Bashir persuaded the Princess to talk to him. Maitland, a former broadcaster himself, uses his background to fill in the gaps of how the interview was arranged.
Maitland’s play, along with Michael Fentiman’s direction, imagines a delicate dance between Spencer and Bashir – almost like a courtship. Her butler, Paul Burrell (a sympathetic Matthew Flynn) smuggles Bashir into KP (Kensington Palace). Bashir – clearly wowed by Diana’s star quality – shyly hands over a present. A copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. The IT book of 1995, Bashir makes a calculated guess that Spencer will respond to this simple, spiritual gift.
It is the calculations that Maitland reveals: the staging is stripped back, a dark background with minimal lighting. The lack of grounding, talking heads often floating in space, emphasises the unsettling moral maze in which we find ourselves. The characters address us directly; Bashir frequently pleads his case to us. Bashir (an excellent Tibu Fortes) is sly and scheming: he ingratiates himself with Diana by emphasising his outsider status. A comprehensive boy who’s made it all the way to the BBC.
However, Bashir makes one miscalculation: Diana herself. Played by Yolanda Kettle, this Diana is more worldly than the usual interpretation of her character. In contrast to Elizabeth Debicki’s Diana in The Crown, Yolanda Kettle finds a steeliness which feels right; a necessary layer of protection when you’re the most famous woman in the world, and arguably the most powerful.
We see little of the actual interview, but Maitland’s play stretches into the aftermath as Bashir’s methods are uncovered. Getting a graphic designer to create false bank statements, insinuating that Diana’s staff were receiving payments to spy on her, Diana sees this as the Palace’s “escalating hostilities” and agrees to the interview. Maitland suggests the interview – acquired by Bashir’s “ethical compromise” – formed the beginning of our fake news, post-truth era.
While The Interview is packed with sharp-witted one-liners (Royal correspondent Jennie Bond is referred to as a “competent news bunny”), Maitland’s play lacks a dramatic verve. However, it asks key questions about journalism and ethics; most notably what we do when no one else is looking. Anchored by two strong central performances, The Interview is an insider’s perspective on a very public event.