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'Casey and Diana' by Nick Green

Now onstage at the Studio Theatre at the Stratford Festival

Cylla von Tiedemann. Krystin Pellerin and Sean Arbuckle

Joe Szekeres


'Casey and Diana' serves as a masterclass in acting from start to finish. It is a powerful, inspiring, emotional, and hopeful experience.

Toronto’s Casey House opened in 1988 and was one of the first hospices in the world to provide palliative care and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. In October 1991, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, visited the hospice. Her historic visit helped to change public attitudes toward people living with HIV/AIDS. The late Princess was photographed shaking and holding hands with one of the residents. The picture went viral in newspapers worldwide putting a recognizable human face of care and compassion against the anxiety and homophobia at that time.

Playwright Nick Green’s world premiere of ‘Casey and Diana’ dramatizes the Princess’s (Krystin Pellerin) visit. The play opens that morning. Excitement builds as the residents and the caretakers realize how significant this moment truly is, especially Thomas (Sean Arbuckle) who is fascinated with the British royal family. He remembers everything about Diana’s wedding to the then Prince Charles.

‘Casey and Diana’ also incorporates flashbacks where Thomas meets his new roommate André (Davinder Malhi). We also meet hospice nurse Vera (Sophia Walker) and volunteer Marjorie (Linda Kash). Thomas’s sister, Pauline (Laura Condlln), also becomes an important individual in the story.

The hospice room designed by Joshua Quinlan for Thomas and André is spacious. The stained-glass artwork reminded me of the pieces found at Casey House from pictures I've seen. The lighting design by Louise Guinand expertly captured the emotional highlights of the production, including a visually stunning moment where several characters were individually spotlighted. Debashis Sinha’s work as Composer and Sound Designer is noteworthy. The selection of the choral singing of "I Am Who I Am" from "La Cage Aux Folles," heightens the drama and adds to the overall beauty of the performance.

Andrew Kushnir's gentle direction of Nick Green's extraordinary script exudes unparalleled human compassion towards the subject matter. This exceptional production evokes an important message from Anne Frank's diary: "In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart." Despite the fear and homophobia at that time, the goodness radiating from each of the characters' hearts left many in tears around me.

The entire production remains an acting masterclass from beginning to end.

Sean Arbuckle's Thomas is a unique blend of a grumpy old man and a stylishly sassy individual, as evidenced by his sarcastic humour and clever banter. His references to the popular TV show 'The Golden Girls' and the film 'Steel Magnolias' are strategically placed for comic relief and hit home with their poignant message. As Thomas’s often petty and bitchy sister, Pauline, Laura Condlln meanness remains palpably cruel. Davinder Malhi’s André exhibits a palpable sense of unease regarding his stay at Casey House, as well as the challenging circumstances in store for him. Nevertheless, André displays a mischievous wit that elicits laughter from the audience during a well-timed "gotcha" moment with Thomas.

Krystin Pellerin emanates the same kind of magnanimity that Princess Diana was known for. At the beginning of the play, Pellerin conveys immense warmth and kindness towards Arbuckle when she first meets him. That iconic handholding between Thomas and the Princess is truly breathtaking as there is a great deal conveyed in that silent moment.

'Casey and Diana' is remarkable for its ability to establish a connection with and understand healthcare workers at Casey House who tirelessly provide care despite facing homophobia and stigma related to the HIV/AIDS virus at that time. This message is especially relevant today, given the ongoing effects of the Covid pandemic and the heroic efforts of healthcare workers that deserve appreciation. The play's message is timeless and has a profound impact.

Vera, portrayed by Sophia Walker, exudes a professional and efficient demeanour as a nurse who acknowledges the need to maintain emotional distance from the residents' struggles. Despite her composed appearance, Walker effectively conveys Vera's underlying emotional distress when expressing her apprehension about confronting individuals like Thomas's sister, Pauline, who can be cruel. Meanwhile, Linda Kash delivers a convincing portrayal of the at-times bubbly and chipper Marjorie who has suffered the loss of numerous friends to AIDS/HIV. Despite this, Marjorie remains optimistic and resilient, recognizing the importance of moving forward amidst the turmoil both inside and outside of Casey House.

Vera and Marjorie allow themselves to grieve their losses at their own pace, but they draw strength from their sense of purpose and their commitment to connecting with the residents and maintaining a hopeful attitude. Despite the challenges, they persevere.

It’s not easy, though.

There is one rather poignant moment in the second act when Kash's wrenching response tugs at the heartstrings.

Final Comments: A tremendously moving story of tears and laughter, ‘Casey and Diana’ will most assuredly become an important part of the Canadian theatre canon. While there is a sense of beautiful finality as the story has concluded, Nick Green’s story will continue to remain within the heart long after the curtain has come down and the audience leaves.

A story not to be missed. I hear some performances have been added so check the website as the play closes soon.

Running time: approximately two hours and forty minutes with one interval.

‘Casey and Diana’ runs to June 17 at the Studio Theatre, 34 George Street, Stratford. For tickets, visit or call 1-800-567-1600.

‘CASEY AND DIANA’ by Nick Green
World Premiere of a Stratford Festival Commission

Director: Andrew Kushnir
Designer: Joshua Quinlan
Lighting Designer: Louise Guinand
Composer and Sound Designer: Debashis Sinha
Producer: Dave Auster
Stage Manager: Michael Hart

Performers: Sean Arbuckle, Laura Condlln, Linda Kash, Davinder Malhi, Krystin Pellerin, Sophia Walker.

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