Hunting Diana

Gilded Balloon Teviot

FOLLOWING up last year’s successful Finding Bin Laden was always going to be tough, but writer-director Henry Naylor has gone a long way towards pulling it off with what he’s billing as his first detective story, Hunting Diana.

The title comes from Earl Spencer’s controversial speech at Diana’s funeral, during which he highlighted the irony that a woman named for the goddess of hunting died the most hunted one of all.

What Naylor asks is who exactly was doing that hunting and why?

What made Finding Bin Laden work so well was taking the big issue then using it as a backdrop to the story instead of the focus. The same trick is pulled here, with the spotlight turned on a collection of MI9 agents who were keeping Diana under close surveillance in Paris.

The car crash obviously is the linchpin around which the mystery revolves, but it’s the characters investigating that mystery, and the varying degrees of accountability they must accept, which will ultimately capture and hold the audience’s attention.

There’s something decidedly fishy going on within MI9: top-secret surveillance photographs of the princess with Dodi are being leaked to the paparazzi, and special agent Darby Burton (played with cocky relish by the fantastic Julia Morris) is determined to get to the bottom of it.

Then the Mercedes crashes and everything changes. Members of the surveillance team are as grief stricken as the rest of the nation, probably more so - after all, they had watched Diana 24 hours a day and probably knew her better than anyone.

Immediately, the conspiracy theories start flying. Why were there special agents stationed along the unplanned limo route? Why were all the roadside traffic cameras turned off? Why did driver Henri Paul have two grand in cash (an apparent bribe) in his pocket?

Suddenly, with Diana out of the way, Darby herself becomes the hunted in more ways than one. It’s this dichotomy that has the potential to be the play’s trump card, but sadly the analogy is not taken to the extent it could be and is left feeling rather unfulfilled.

MI9 didn’t kill Diana, this Darby knows; but was it trying to shake off the genuine paparazzi in order to get exclusive photos of an alleged proposal that they could sell right back to the gutter press?

And is it such a stretch to imagine the secret service wanted Diana dead? She was, after all, publicly and repeatedly undermining the monarchy and positioning herself dangerously as the "queen of hearts" alternative.

Justin Edwards’ Sir Toby makes the point that Diana worship is pure narcissism - she was a mirror and people saw in her what they wanted: victim, rebel, party girl . . . It would seem things in death are no different.

There are any number of credible theories about what may have happened that fateful night. Naylor’s play doesn’t purport to have the ultimate answer, but it certainly poses a lot of interesting questions, and spins a compelling yarn, along the way.

• Run ends August 30

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