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Winnipeg Fringe Festival

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Princess of the projects

Solo show transports the story of Charles and Diana to a working-class British neighbourhood

Posted: 07/20/2011 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 07/21/2011 8:03 PM | Updates

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Touring a fringe show about Princess Diana may appear to be a shrewd marketing move in a summer when the world is transfixed by royal newlyweds William and Kate.

But it's just a fortunate coincidence, says solo actress-writer Carly Tarett from Manchester, England.

"I had no idea," says Tarett, 33. "It was written before they announced their engagement. The timing just couldn't have been more perfect."

The blond performer, who has been walking the fringe site in a hot-pink dress and rhinestone tiara to promote Princess Dee: The Princess Diana Story Retold, has played the Winnipeg festival for the past three years.

She was in Eyewitness Theatre's Lysistrata, The Importance of Being Earnest and The Trojan Women. Last year, she toured the self-produced solo show Molly, drawn from James Joyce's Ulysses.

She makes her debut as a playwright with the hour-long, six-character Princess Dee, the "dramatization of an iconic life" at Aqua Books (Venue 20).

"I wanted to do something quite British," says Tarett, describing herself as a socialist who is fascinated by the royal family. The actress felt for the unhappily married, bulimic princess whose entitled husband once said, "I refuse to be the only Prince of Wales who never had a mistress."

With a stage set consisting only of a chair, Tarett transposes the story to a working-class London housing project called Brittania, where Dee catches the eye of Charlie, the swaggering heir apparent to the Windsor family. The Windsors are a powerful crime clan ruled by Queenie, the matriarch. Camilla is there, too.

Underworld families, like ultra-privileged families, can wall off, intimidate and control the women who marry into them, Tarett notes. Fear played a role in Diana's marriage, partly because she was terrified of losing custody of sons William and Harry.

"She was so isolated by this huge power structure that she lived within," Tarett says. "It could happen to women in so many different walks of life."

The show includes funny moments. For instance, in an echo of Prince Charles' unromantic toting of eight Laurens van der Post novels on the couple's honeymoon, Charlie stocks up on John Grisham titles.

Tarett underwent a life-changing transition herself as a young woman. After earning a degree in mathematics, she had a four-year career as a computer programmer. "I was a very tech-y person," she says.

At about age 25, she got involved in amateur theatre and found it energizing. "One day, something just snapped and it was like: right, this is what I'm doing."

She trained at the Oxford School of Drama and is now a full-time performer. Fringe touring in Canada, which has allowed her to see many one-person shows, inspired her to write. She penned most of Princess Dee on her laptop during last summer's tour.

"The fringe has been the most creative thing that's ever happened to me," says Tarett, one of the many acts taking part in Winnipeg Fringe Comes to Clear Lake, July 29 to Aug. 1.

In Tarett's view, Prince William and his new bride show more potential for happiness than Charles and Diana.

"I think Kate knows exactly what she's doing. I see them being very successful, at home and abroad. She did what Camilla would never do (for Prince Charles), which was wait for William while he went away.

"Kate wants to be queen, and she seems very capable. She's got that nice common touch that Diana had -- she's able to communicate with people. I think Diana paved the way."

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2011 D3

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Updated on Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 8:03 PM CDT: Adds video

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