Casey and Diana

Nick Green
Stratford Festival
Stratford Festival Theatre

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Krystin Pellerin and Sean Arbuckle Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann
The Cast of Casey and Diana Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann
Sopjhia Walker Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann
Davinder Malhi and Linda Kash Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann
Sean Arbuckle and Laura Condlln Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann

Casey and Diana proves that it isn't just in Great Britain that a significant proportion of the population remains obsessed by the Royal Family.

Mirroring popular Netflix show The Crown, this compassionate play is Stratford Festival Theatre’s third Royal visit to Canada, following Serving Elizabeth, which focussed on the unusual circumstances of the late Queen's accession to the throne and 1939 about a colonial visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Apparently, the TV series has descended even further into majestic soap opera. Pleasingly, Casey and Diana delves considerably deeper into its characters’ psychology, as the Princess of Wales visits a tight-knit community in Toronto.

At the time of her visit in 1991, Casey House was Canada’s only AIDS hospice. While prospective viewers might be seduced by the prospect of seeing an intimate portrait of a woman who is still idolised, Nick Green has written a very different, more important play, considering the terrible impact of AIDS on its victims and those close to them.

It is largely built around Sean Arbuckle, whose performance as Thomas—filled with humour but topped off by a tier-inducing eulogy for a dead friend—is the kind that usually ends up winning awards.

We follow him during the week between an announcement to patients from the hospice’s long-suffering manager Vera, played by Sophia Walker, that they are to receive a visit from the ultimate gay icon, Princess Diana, to the big day.

In every sense of the word, Thomas becomes delirious over the ensuing seven days, Arbuckle convincingly demonstrating manic-depressive and hallucinatory qualities that may, or may not, result from Thomas’s affliction.

In addition to considering the psychologically healing qualities of a visit from royalty, the play looks closely at relationships.

Vera cares too much about her charges but is professional enough to remain detached from much of the pain and drama. Irritating volunteer colleague Marjorie, portrayed by Linda Kash, gets too emotional and too close, causing conflicting emotions in new arrival Davinder Malhi’s Andre, a sick, crippled young man without a future.

At the same time as coming to terms with their impending mortality and watching fellow patients disappear on a daily basis, the two dying men are troubled about attempting reconciliation with their nearest and dearest.

We do not see Andre’s mother, who long ago turned her back on a gay son, but do witness the love-hate relationship between Thomas and his sister Pauline, Laura Condlln.

In all of this, Krystin Pellerin’s Diana is something of a bit-part player, although her impact on every member of the community is disproportionately large.

Nick Green’s writing talent allows every character to have his or her moment in the spotlight, and features a series of hard-hitting monologues that illuminate their subject and the emotional topic of survival during the AIDS crisis.

In the sure hands of director Andrew Kushnir, Casey and Diana is a deeply moving and thought-provoking play that chronicles a terrible time and, having been one of the hottest tickets during Stratford Festival’s summer 2023 season, fully deserves this opportunity to appear on a global (online) stage.

This video is available on the newly revamped and relaunched Stratfest@home web site in assorted formats up to the crystal clear 4K. The library is expanded and the pricing is just £6.44 per month or £64.47 for an annual subscription. It is a great treasure trove that will give fans of high-quality theatre hours of pleasure.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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