My latest visit to WERK X-Petersplatz took me to the final rehearsal of the whirlwind contemporary play “What did you do when Lady Di died” by Katharina Kummer – a “chorus of princesses”, as one tagline refers to it. The play engages with a range of different themes and ideas, including the life and legacy of Princess Diana, the cultural and social context in which she lived, and broader issues related to wealth, privilege, and societal expectations.
Princess Diana’s death in the car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris on August 31, 1997, shocked the world and led to an outpouring of grief from people around the globe. The accident occurred as Diana and her companion, Dodi Fayed, were being pursued by paparazzi photographers on motorcycles. Diana’s death prompted an unprecedented wave of public mourning, and this history is interwoven in this unusual staging. The cult that arose around Princess Diana was something I could not relate to (perhaps because I am not British), but it is interesting as a phenomenon nevertheless.
“What did you do when Lady Di died” is a highly conceptual and experimental play that uses Princess Diana’s tragic death as a lens through which to explore broader social, cultural, and political themes. The play is structured around a series of “interviews” or conversations with people whose stories appear to intersect with or have some parallel aspects to the Lady Di story. The polyphonic chorus of voices may remind some viewers of ancient Greek theatre.
The use of multiple actors all claiming to be the real Lady Di, as well as a surprisingly real looking doll of her, adds to the play’s surreal and postmodern feel. The use of a polyphonic chorus of voices is a technique that has been used in theater for centuries, and has its roots in ancient Greek drama. In Greek theater, the chorus was a group of performers who would sing, dance, and comment on the action of the play. They represented the voice of the community or society, and often provided moral commentary on the events taking place. In “What did you do when Lady Di died,” it seems that the polyphonic chorus of voices serves a similar function, representing a diverse range of perspectives and experiences that comment on the broader social and cultural themes being explored in the play. By using this technique, the play engages with a rich tradition of theater that dates back thousands of years, while also pushing the boundaries of what theater can be in the modern era.
The stage design is quite strikingly dark and visually interesting, with its combination of a muted flower landscape and strewn car parts. The use of this design may be intended to reference the car crash that killed Princess Diana, as well as the darker aspects of her life and legacy. The fact that the stage designer, Alma Bektas, is also a floral designer and works across different artistic mediums suggests that she intended the design to be a symbolic aspect of the play. By blending together the natural and artificial, Bektas may be alluding to the complex and multifaceted aspects of the play.
I loved the way the actors changed roles, sometimes literally from one phrase to the next, and the way the action takes place both on stage and in the auditorium. This kind of immersive and interactive theater can be a really powerful way of engaging the audience and creating a more dynamic and participatory theatrical experience. By breaking down the traditional boundaries between the performers and the audience, and by encouraging the actors to switch roles and personas frequently, the play may be encouraging the audience to become more deeply involved in the performance and to actively engage with the themes and ideas being explored. The relatively intimate space of WERK X-Petersplatz contributes to this sense of intimacy and engagement.
Katharina Kummer, the director of “What did you do when Lady Di died,” has a unique and innovative approach to theater. By combining linguistics with puppet, figure, and object theater, Kummer is creating a theatrical language that is both anarchic and precise, and that explores a range of different ideas and experiences. The use of puppetry and object theater can be particularly effective in creating a sense of animism and a fantastic world that comes alive with its own meanings. This makes for an intellectually and aesthetically engaging performance.
With its emphasis on a non-linear exploration of the stories and experiences being told, this postdramatic staging left me quite impressed, and sort of confused in a good way. Ultimately, it seems that the play aims to critique and challenge the values and assumptions of multiple aspects of contemporary society.
The play is in German, with a lot of English mixed in, it premiered last night.
Further performances (7:30 p.m.):
- Fri., 24. Feb.; Sat., 25. Feb.; Sun., 26. Feb.; Wed., 1. Mar.; Fri., 3. Mar.; Sat., 4. Mär.
Cast: Ines Heinrich-Frank, Zeliha Çiçek, Anniek Vetter, Jona Moro, Daniel Breitfelder
Text & Staging: Katharina Kummer
Music: Carina Wohlgemuth
Stage and costume: Alma Bektas
Set and costume adaptation: Geraldine Massing
Doll making: Hagen Tilp
Dramaturgy and production management: Stephan Langer
The play is a production by Rohe Eier 3000 in cooperation with WERK X-Petersplatz.
All photos © Karin Svadlenak-Gomez
P.S. I have to say it – “free advertising”, I am not getting paid by anybody to write this.
4 thoughts on “Multiple Dianas at WERK X-Petersplatz”
The fact that this play exists 25 years after Diana’s death is proof of how influential she continues to be, and how many people still remember what they did and where they were when she died (me among them).
that’s so interesting, isn’t it, I personally never followed her cult very much, but so many did
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Nor did I, Karin. But I have always felt bad for her for not being left alone to live her life in some semblance of privacy and peace.
That, yes! For sure.
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