Diana the Princess, Palace Theatre, Manchester

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The Independent Culture

It should be awful: a ballet based on the life of Princess Diana, featuring a chorus of beefeaters, a whip-wielding Camilla and a soundtrack that mixes Elgar with The Cure.

It should be awful: a ballet based on the life of Princess Diana, featuring a chorus of beefeaters, a whip-wielding Camilla and a soundtrack that mixes Elgar with The Cure. And while Diana the Princess, created by Danish dance impresario Peter Schaufuss, is indeed pretty awful, it does have moments of comic genius. The problem is, it's hard to tell whether they're intentional or not.

Schaufuss met Diana when he was artistic director of the English National Ballet and she was its patron, secretly taking daily lessons at ENB's studio across the road from Kensington Palace. Di and the director became close friends - there were even rumours of romance, and this is his tribute to her.

Diana's story takes up where most other fairy tales leave off, with the beautiful young girl marrying her prince. Unfortunately, as we know, it wasn't all happily ever after. No sooner have Charles and Di met than Camilla literally bounds into the picture, clad in jodhpurs and riding gear. Swinging her riding crop, she whips Charles into a frenzy, crawls on all fours and sticks her rump in the air with a devilish smile. He lifts her in the air, crotch to mouth. It's frankly indecent, but utterly hilarious.

From there on it's downhill. We meet the sweet young princes, see Diana working with Aids patients, and witness a melodramatic duet with Dodi Fayed, but they're all fleeting snapshots of familiar scenes.

The British-born dancer Zara Deakin plays Diana, and avoids crass impersonation in favour of well-observed inflections of movement. Dressed head to toe in skin-tight white Lycra, she tosses delicately across the stage, only transforming into the confident, coquettish celeb when the cameras start to flash.

As for the House of Windsor, it's clearly hard to choreograph a stiff upper lip, so Schaufuss opts for strange straight-legged walks and stilted moves from the corps de ballet. The choreography is generally simplistic and uninspired, but Schaufuss doesn't call this a ballet, rather a dance show, or a musical without words, and it seems to operate entirely within its own rules.

The second half of the show takes a further step into the surreal, with excerpts of Diana's televised interviews with Martin Bashir played over the movement. The honesty of Diana's voice turns out to be the most poignant thing in the show, and tells us much more about her character and vulnerability than any stage antics. Diana was admired for her taste and elegance, but attempts at honouring her memory have not so far mirrored her grace.

As the show closes with Diana's funeral, the soundtracks wails with Eighties guitar and prog synth, and Diana's signature lights up the backdrop in neon. It's not quite as kitsch as a Charles and Diana souvenir wedding plate, but you can't help wondering if we have here the makings of a future camp classic, Rocky Horror style. Until then it's one for die-hard Di fans only.

To tomorrow (0870 401 3000).

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