Diana Down Under

Arts Centre performance space (under the SoFA Gallery), Christchurch

25/08/2007 - 08/09/2007

Production Details

Created by the ensemble
Directed by Peter Falkenberg


Diana Down Under explores the life that the dead princess still lives in our media and our minds.  As Elizabeth Wilson writes, “To begin with she was simply the ingénue, the fairy princess, but she rapidly became mother, crazy neurotic, wife betrayed, self-obsessed narcissist, glamour star, woman-struggling-for-independence, survivor, and, latterly, saint, strong woman, and even political interventionist.  This excess, amplified by the media, meant that she became a copy without an original, a multiple personality with no ‘real’ Diana to which her public could return.” 

When Diana visited New Zealand, she was led to attend the ballet Coppelia where a fairytale puppet becomes alive through desires and fantasies.  Free Theatre’s new production, directed by Peter Falkenberg, presents a puppet manufactory where the un-dead Diana is revived by the manipulations of different puppeteers for the entertainment of an audience. 

Coinciding with the tenth anniversary of her death, the performance takes place “down under” in the Arts Centre performance space, Nibelheim (South Quad, Old Library, under the SoFA Gallery), 8pm Tuesday to Sunday, from 25th August through 8th September. 

Tickets are $15/$10 and are available from Te Puna Toi in the Arts Centre, phone 365 3159.  Bookings recommended as places are limited. 

Theatre , Puppetry ,

1 hour

Purposefully provocative

Review by Lindsay Clark 30th Aug 2007

The decade since her death has tempered some of the speculation and outright hysteria which followed Diana’s tragic death in a Parisian road tunnel.

Commemorative events continue however and layers of ‘truth’ about her proliferate. It is this multiple persona, fabricated, represented, probably misrepresented by so many media and feeding an insatiable public appetite that is the prime focus of the group’s ensemble piece. Construction of an image, its manipulation and its tenuous relationship to an original is an important corollary.

Sited under the SoFA Gallery, the performance space is a low basement, reached down stone steps by candlelight. One by one the audience is guided to a central altar to deposit their candle and thence to an individual seat somewhere in the gloom, where mini-performance spaces have been set up. Convention has been replaced by an interesting anticipation as the cast gathers to sing the Taverner Allelujah from Diana’s funeral service, and the exploration is underway.

Through puppetry, in itself an effective metaphor, several stages of Diana’s life are enacted simultaneously by all puppets. The puppets themselves are mostly life-sized, variously fashioned and worked so that the boundaries of  live performer and image are increasingly blurred. As in the case of Diana herself. In one case, the famous wedding dress turns its wearer into a pseudo puppet: in another, a floppy calico creature is constructed on a large cross and with its blank face and pale wig all but eliminates the human player, entwined in its embrace.

Around the area, screens run footage of ‘Diana’ events or the ballet Coppelia ,itself a clear starting point for the ensemble. For once, the flickering images do not eclipse what is happening with the live cast, but remain a version of reality to which the eye and ear periodically return.

At one hour’s playing time the production has found a useful frame. There is plenty to say, a sense of purpose and discipline in the multiple performances, and some very effective moments of heightened theatricality. One of these is the representation of the crash itself, coming early in the piece, after the calm rituals of candle and choral service. In the close darkness of the basement, sound and light create horrifying effects, amplified by screaming sirens and ghastly media pursuers.

As a provocative exercise in theatre the work of the ensemble is well worth a visit.
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