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Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story creators on their ‘queer, chaotic, messy’ take

Exclusive: Linus Karp and Joseph Martin discuss bringing their show to life, Gwyneth Goes Skiing, and being "repellent trash"

By Alastair James

Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story
Linus Karp in Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story (Image: Dave Bird)

Inspiration can be a funny thing. Much like lightning which rarely strikes the same place twice, inspiration rarely strikes in the same way more than once. For example, you can be working on what you think is a perfectly good idea and then you find an old skit you did for your partner’s mum’s 60th birthday and realise it makes a great basis for a show. Or one of the world’s biggest film stars can get into a skiing accident which several years later becomes a televised legal battle and also forms the basis of a show. That whole lightning thing is a myth anyway.

All of that to say that Linus Karp and Joseph Martin have always struck gold while working on something else. The creative minds behind Awkward Productions have had great success in producing work, such as their musical Gwyneth Goes Skiing, as well as Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story which returns to London’s King’s Head Theatre today (Wednesday 17 April) for a limited run before returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, that is both zeitgeisty as well as utterly brilliant. Their recent event, The Glasgow Wonka Experience Quiz and Game Experience, is further evidence of their mastery when it comes to tapping into moments.

The two who also share the titles of co-founders, directors, and producers as well as sometimes stage managers, technicians, voice artists, puppeteers, and basically anything else that they need as and when they need it, met 10 years ago by their count. Both trained as actors, they became a couple while working in retail. They were together for three years before they began working together.

The genesis for Awkward Productions, came from Linus. Born in Sweden he came to the UK for acting opportunities but ended up creating Awkward to put shows on for himself. “When you’re a foreigner and probably especially when you’re queer and weird the things you’re seen for can be very limited,” he explains over Zoom. The first show, a one-man project, was put on in 2017. “[Linus] said ‘Are you going to help?’ I was working a full-time job with the BBC at the time and was like, ‘Yeah, sure,” Joseph says continuing the story. From there the two have grown as Awkward has, taking on new roles and teaching themselves how to write, direct, and produce as they go.

I’m curious, having only seen Gwyneth Goes Skiing and the Wonka Experience and with tickets booked for Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story, what is the ethos of Awkward Productions? “In press releases, we call ourselves the harbingers of queer chaos,” says Joseph. Linus adds, “We make shows about things that we find really interesting. It’s basically to think that catches our interest.” As well as being driven by fun, their work is also, partly, a response to the realities of the world in 2024. Last year, the Office for National Statistics reported that hate crimes based on sexual orientation had doubled in the last five years. Meanwhile, those against trans people increased by 186% at the same time.

“I also really want for us to make work that’s queer and joyful,” Linus continues. “I feel so often with queer stories we all know how much there are in terms of sad coming out stories or stories around Aids and so on. Obviously, those stories need to be told, I’m glad they exist. But queer theatre can often feel very heavy. I really want to make shows that are full of queer joy and where being queer is the norm.” The pair want to ensure their spaces are safe and welcoming with Linus professing, “We will always assume the audience are queer, and obviously they’ll be loads of straights coming along. But unlike the normal world, that’s not the norm.” Joseph picks up. “[The straights] fit in rather than the other way around. They’re stepping into our world instead of us going into theirs.”

Their work is also for those who spend their time online, peppered with pop culture references. Joseph offers the best comparison. “It’s like a Disney Pixar film in that there’s always stuff for the grown-ups. There are those little bits where if you don’t get them, it’s fine. You don’t feel like you’re not part of the joke. But if you get them, it’s hysterical.”

Turning to Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story the pair share how it came to be. The show is a fresh take on the icon combining drag, multimedia, audience interaction, puppetry, and queer joy. Working on something else, they couldn’t make it work. This is when Linus came upon a script he’d written for Joseph’s mum’s 60th, her being a “Diana stan,” which they’d all read around the table after a few glasses of wine. “Linus revisited the documents and was like, ‘Actually, I think there’s something in this’,” Joseph remembers.

Since it first ran there have been new seasons of The Crown, Prince Harry released THAT book (we’ll never hear the word ‘oscillating’ without thinking about Harry’s penis) and there’s been a coronation. All in all, a lot of material to play with and use to update the show. “It’s gonna be really silly,” Linus giggles as Josephs lists new memes, scenes, and a new wig. Also, Diana: The Musical star Jeanna de Waal has joined the show. “If people have seen it before, it will feel fresh.”

Addressing the balance of fact and fiction in Diana the pair maintain that it is “quite truthful” to the People’s Princess’ life, highlighting her work with Aids patients, while also using some artistic licence. “We do highlight those things we know and love Diana for, but we don’t necessarily show them the way they happened. Her marriage with Charles obviously happens in our show, but it’s quite different from how it actually went down,” says Linus.

Joseph reinforces this before stating that their take sees Princess Diana “giving the gays what they want.” This is the story she “should” have had Joseph goes on to say drawing a connection to The Crown. “A lot of things that happen in The Crown are conversations that happened behind closed doors, right? We don’t know how those conversations went down. So, who’s to say that they didn’t go down in the queer, chaotic, messy way that they go down in our show?”

Linus and Joseph are keen to impart that Diana is done out of love. This doesn’t mean it’s found its critics however with the Mail, humourless as always, describing it as “repellent trash.” It’s a critique the new production is wearing proudly as a badge of honour and employing as a marketing tactic. “We didn’t invite them,” remarks Linus. “I would never want to do a show that pleases the Daily Mail.”

Addressing the criticism they have attracted, which has only really come from such snowflake sections of society, Linus points out that it only highlights people’s narrow-minded views, especially as some online comments have been transphobic in nature, apparently focusing on Linus being a man in a dress. “That shows just how ridiculous it is with their ‘I can always tell’ kind of thing.” Joseph muses: “Life is too short to get caught up in in all of that. So often it’s not personal. It’s who they think we are, or what they think the show is.” Linus adds, “You have to learn which voices to listen to and they will be the people close to you whose opinions you actually trust when it comes to your artistry.”

With a subject like Diana the pushback is more expected. With Gwyneth Goes Skiing there’s less to be concerned about. Even from Paltrow herself. “We know she’s OK with it,” says Joseph casually. “Is she actually” Attitude asks excitedly. They haven’t heard from her directly but outlets reporting on the musical have reached out to Paltrow for comment. The working theory is she knows the musical exists. “We had a couple of people reach out who’d worked with Gwyneth who said, ‘I really think Gwyneth would enjoy this.’ That felt a bit reassuring,” shares Linus. “I also think our portrayal is quite silly. We make fun of a lot of things but it’s also loving. And she comes off quite well in it.”

The idea came to Linus as he watched the 2023 trial unfold. The show was brilliant (we gave it 4 stars). It featured verbatim lines such as “I lost half a day of skiing,” and “I wish you well.” The latter becoming a whole song provided by Leland of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame. They connected after the producer saw them perform Diana at the 2023 Fringe. It has led to a fruitful partnership. Leland has not only produced music for the show but he also connected them to Drag Race icon Trixie Mattel. The UNHhhh host played Gwyneth’s mother Blythe Danner in recorded clips. Cut to the pair being awake at two-thirty AM GMT watching Trixie record the lines. “There are so many moments where I go, ‘I cannot believe this is our life. This is insane’,” laughs Joseph.

Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story is playing at the King’s Head Theatre from 17 April to 5 May 2024. Get tickets here. Follow Awkward Productions here. Gwyneth Goes Skiing will play at Pleasance Courtyard Fourth between 31 July and 26 August. Book tickets here.