YOU might think a young playwright would wait until the 20th anniversary of her death next year to premiere his first Fringe stageplay about the life of Diana, Princess of Wales. But no. The Glasgow-born, New York-based James Clements – son of broadcaster Kirsty Wark and TV executive Alan Clements – is bringing his crowd-funded one-acter, In Her Own Words: The Diana Tapes, to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year.

“If I waited until 2017 we’d be caught up in the frenzy of insane babble,” says Clements, who is 24 and graduated in acting and history from New York University in 2014. “People would be thinking this is just another deferential biopic, but I wanted it to be seen as a story of a woman with flaws as well as attributes and to not to make her a saint in any way.

“I’m not such a massive Diana fan and I don’t think she was one of the greatest Britons who ever lived, but I do recognise the massive impact she had. My play is a way of unpacking what that was.

“It’s about the changing nature of privacy and the way the media and popular culture continues to evolve to this day.”

He describes The Diana Tapes (subtitle: Deception, Lies and Audiotapes) as an “unapologetic, fast-paced thriller” that is centred on the cassettes she recorded in 1992 and passed, via a friend, to the biographer Andrew Morton in a London café – and then denied she had had anything to do with the ensuing book, Diana: Her True Story, which triggered the end of her marriage to Prince Charles and almost toppled the monarchy.

Speaking between rehearsals in New York, Clements acknowledges his play is a follow-on from his NYU thesis, Because She Was One of Us: Princess Diana and the Transformation of Nobility in Late 20th Century Britain. This in turn was influenced by his reading of Elizabeth Wilson’s 1997 essay for the New Left Review entitled The Unbearable Lightness of Diana.

“She was a confusing figure,” he says. “With that book she deliberately destroyed her own myth.”

The play lasts an hour, the requisite length for emerging companies at the Fringe, and focuses on four characters in three locations: Diana’s sitting room where the tapes were made, the cafe, and the publisher’s office, and at no point are all four on stage together.

“The characters are entering and exiting the three spaces on stage and there are super-fast exchanges of information,” explains Clements. “When Morton gets the tapes in the café, he crosses the stage in five seconds to the publisher’s office, which I hope is quite unsettling and helps build up the tension while also addressing issues of privacy and personal space + and the loss of both in Diana’s life once she’d started the ball rolling. I’m trying to be careful not to pass judgment and to avoid it being tabloidy."

The four characters are Morton, Diana’s collaborator James Colthurst, publisher Michael O’Mara and Diana herself – played by the New York-based Venezuelan Ana-Cristina Schuler, whom Clements cast not so much for her appearance as for “the mannerisms and the eyes, that coy up-and-down regard”.

He himself plays Morton, declining to direct. That task has been given to Wednesday Sue Derrico “for her female perspective”.

“It’s important to have a woman’s vision,” he says. “I wonder if Diana really thought it through. She had no idea what the publisher was doing, and none of them ever sat down to discuss the outcome. The Princess of Wales was asked by the Prime Minister and the Queen is she had had anything to do with it. She lied to their faces.

“A lot of what she said was fabricated and the validity of some of what she said is questionable, but it’s what she chose to fabricate and what she chose to include that is interesting to me,” he adds.

“Up until then we all thought these people were going to be King and Queen of England. By sharing details of her bulimia, self-harm and attempted suicide, this uber-famous princess was choosing to step out of the gilded cage and join the outcasts she had championed. She was creating her own alternate brand of what it is understood as nobility. She smashed the culture of deference and empowered the public. Thank God that’s the way Britain is going.”

It’s perhaps ironic that Clements only got to know about Diana from the moment she died.

“I wasn’t born when Morton’s book came out and I only remember her passing,” he says. “Me and Caitlin [his sister] were watching cartoons on the television while my parents were having a bit of a sleep-in. The programme was interrupted by the announcement. We ran into mum and dad’s and said, ‘Princess Diana has died’. I remember my mum jumped out of bed and went into work immediately. Her reaction impressed on me the importance of who Diana had been.”

The young cast is currently engaged in “stealing old clothes from the back of their parents’ closets”. Given that Diana would now have been his dad’s age of 55, he’s borrowing his “vintage” bomber jackets and stripey shirts for his part. “And Ana-Cristina’s got some horrendous 1990s polka dot blouses from her mum.”

Does he think Prince Charles would like the play (fully crowdfunded to the tune of $5,230)?

“I’d love Charles to come and see it,” he responds. “I’m not a monarchist and I have a lot of reservations about what Diana stood for but I don’t feel I’m doing a hatchet job or scandalising anything. I’m making theatre. This story is true.”

In Her Own Words: the Diana Tapes is at The Space August 22 to 27