“I’m just very restless,” Linus Karp says, “I’m easily bored, I need to work, to create all the time.” When he launched Awkward Productions with Rob Hayes’ Awkward Conversations With Animals I've F****d, resumes the performer, he wasn’t getting enough work as an actor and so decided to start making his own. This continued with how to live a jellicle life – which he wrote after watching Tom Hooper’s 2019 take on the musical Cats – and now with Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story. A brand-new show that brings all the queer chaos people have come to expect from Awkward Productions, Diana will tour the UK from this November.
Combining drag, multimedia, audience interaction, puppetry and a lot of queer joy, this unique celebration of the people’s princess is as hilarious as it is tasteless. Ahead of the show coming to Oxford’s Old Fire Station, Linus tells Sam Bennett why she’s a gay icon and how he came to make a show about her.
Your last show, how to live a jellicle life toured a lot and had longevity – did you expect that?
Probably not. Some of the longevity was due to COVID – I just couldn’t perform it for a long time. I wrote it for Fringe 2020, which never happened so we put it on hold. I was able to do it late 2020 but then everything closed down again – it was held up many times. So, I don’t know if it would have had that long life. I’m very glad it did, I had so much fun with it – when something is fun and goes well, you’re like, ‘I just want to do more of this’ – and I think the show got better and better as well.
Why do you reckon people liked it so much?
It’s just stupid fun. Since COVID, and everything that’s happened since, to sit in a room and just laugh and forget your troubles for an hour is really powerful. Obviously, there’s still space for serious pieces that make you think and feel things, but it’s also nice to have escapism. I really changed during the pandemic as a theatre-maker. Before I was more serious, now I just want to be playful, to have fun, to laugh more than anything. That’s what’s been driving me, both with jellicle and Diana. I still put my own views in, I’ll always be a little bit political and share who I am, but more than anything, I just want it to be a good time.
Speaking of politics, are you excited by the appointment of our new prime minister?
Not really. As soon as one of the top Tories resigns, you’re like, ‘yay!’ Then it’s: ‘Ok, they’re just going to be replaced by someone else terrible.’ But who knows? The more prime ministers they go through, hopefully the more likely a general election is. Sunak won’t be as bad as Truss; it’s a bit annoying because I had a little section in Diana where I was indirectly referencing Truss as the prime minister – I’m going to have to change that now.
I suppose you must keep an eye on politics not just for show ideas and material, but in terms of issues like funding for the arts and of course whether people can even afford to go to the theatre anymore.
Absolutely. Especially this winter. I’m doing a show when so many people will be struggling with their everyday lives, theatre will be a luxury more than ever, I’m so grateful that quite a lot of people have already booked tickets. We’ve also raised money through a crowdfunder, so we can give away tickets to people who can’t afford to go to the theatre. You can just tell us you want one of these tickets and, as long as we have tickets left, you’ll be able to go. You won’t need proof, just say you need one. Also, at Arts at the Old Fire Station you can choose whether you want to pay more or less for a show which is a great idea for a ticketing system.
Yes, you’re taking Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story there very soon – why have you made a show about Princess Diana?
I didn’t actually intend for this to be a show at first. My mother-in-law is a big Diana fan – we’ve always made Diana jokes and bought her weird Diana-themed presents. She turned 60 last year, so I started writing a piece I thought I would read for her on her birthday. It got longer and longer, then we read it out for her birthday – everyone got a part – just a bit of fun. Touring jellicle at the beginning of the year, I was thinking what to do next. I’d been working on an idea for a long time and I was struggling to get it moving. Then I looked at the Diana script and thought: ‘What if I were to rework this and make it a solo show?’ As soon as I started working on it, I got all these ideas and it felt really fun. I quickly put together the first full draft, I was like, ‘Ok, this feels like the thing I should be doing.’ And it seems like quite a good time for Diana content, what with Diana: The Musical and the new season of The Crown.
Is she a gay icon for you?
Yes, she is. We can have many gay icons, there’s no limit to it, but people like to throw that term at anyone doing something. It’s important to remember that Diana actually did the work. She really did change the opinion in society around AIDS. That was quite a controversial thing for someone within the establishment and that famous to do. And then us gays love a strong woman who’s freeing herself from her husband, breaking free from traditions, and obviously has great fashion as well!
Is the show a fond look at her then?
I watched so many documentaries about Diana, read so much about her, and the more I read I more I loved her – I want that to come across. It’s obviously done in a silly, stupid way. ‘Untrue’ is the key word of the title. Rather than telling the Diana story as it’s told, I’m telling it as it should be. There was so much unnecessary tragedy in it, and here she gets to be the strong hero. I think if you like Diana, you’ll like the show. It’s very pro-Diana, though not necessarily in a tasteful way all the time. I don’t want people to come to this and expect The Crown or serious drama. It’s not actually Diana, and it’s silly and queer.
So your mother-in-law may not see the Diana she loves…
She has a great sense of humour, I think she’ll have a good time. She came to see jellicle more than anyone else – she’s pretty cool.
What’s next for you?
When I’ve done this show I probably need to go in a completely different direction, because this one is tonally quite similar to jellicle even though it’s a different show. It’s jellicle levelled up, bigger, and I think maybe next time I need to do something minimal. I don’t think I’ll be able to go bigger than this, but you never know!
Diana: The Untold and Untrue Story is at The Pleasance Theatre, London 8-19 November and Arts at the Old Fire Station, Oxford 23-24 November.
Photography © Dave Bird
Linus Karp also recommends…
Age Is A Feeling – Haley McGee - sohotheatre.com/shows/age-is-a-feeling
One Woman Show – Liz Kingsman - sohotheatre.com/shows/one-woman-show-by-liz-kingsman/