In November 1995, the BBC aired an interview between Princess Diana (Yolanda Kettle) and journalist Martin Bashir (Tibu Fortes). It was watched by hundreds of millions worldwide.
This play, by Jonathan Maitland follows the lead-up to the broadcast and its aftermath, and raises questions about journalistic ethics.
It sets the scene with a recording of King Charles admitting in a BBC interview that he had been unfaithful to Diana during their marriage.
The first act shows how Bashir is determined to secure a TV interview with Diana, and his devious ploys. Fortes gives an enthusiastic performance as Bashir, as he inveigles his way to gain Diana's confidence and weaken her already fragile trust in the royal family. They are both misfits, he tells her, and gains her sympathy by describing his sorrow over his brother's death.
Diana's friend Luciana has misgivings about the interview, and suggests she use the opportunity to look magnanimous and forgive Charles. However, Diana becomes convinced the interview will allow her, finally, to tell her story.
Bashir, meanwhile, remains resolute, pushing graphic designer Matt Weissler (Ciarán Owens) into forging bank statements - but does not tell him he wants these to gain the trust of Diana's brother.
The second act debates journalistic ethics and the truth. We're taken to the editing suite, where BBC staff review the interview footage, bluntly debating what should and should not be broadcast, and what they find to be the most striking lines. Only the best-known lines from the interview - "there were three of us in the marriage" - are included in the play.
Then, it's 25 years later, and Bashir's duplicitous methods are being found out and questions raised about the ethics of broadcasting the interview, if the end justified the means, fake news and whether the BBC should be making rather than reporting the news.
Hypocrisy is evident throughout this play, whether from the BBC staff (marvellous), the unrepentant Bashir and even Paul Burrell (Matthew Flynn), who highlights his own book about Diana. The chemistry between the characters on the minimal set, from Bashir and Diana to the sometimes hypocritical BBC staff, gives an intimacy to the production. Both Diana and Burrell very much look the part.
Under pressure from Prince William, the BBC agreed it would never broadcast the interview again. While you can understand the prince's motives, the move served to silence both a part of TV history and Diana herself. (However, the interview can be found online easily enough.)
Nonetheless, the genie was out of the bottle. Bashir's underhand methods undermined the programme's integrity - but shone a harsh light on life in the royal family.
The Interview, produced by Original Theatre, directed by Michael Fentiman, is at the Park Theatre, FInsbury Park, London, until 25 November 2023. See: https://parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-interview
See audience responses: www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BEPmd_9LnM&t=65s