"I knew he was a pirate; I didn't know he was a gangster," says Jackie O as conspiracy theories fly in Onassis at the Novello.We didn't know much about Aristotle Onassis before seeing this play. Shipping Magnate. Millionaire. Married to Jackie O. That kind of thing. We left a little more enlightened, but not all that entertained.Martin Sherman's play pulls on Onassis's love of Greek literature and attempts to turn the moneyed 1960s playboy into a classical, tragic hero. The action takes us from 1963 and Onassis' wooing of the First Lady Jackie Kennedy, over the next 12 years of yachting, shipping and plotting. There's a suggestion Onassis's dealing with the Palestinians secured the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968.But without a proper dramatic arc (Onassis starts off rich and arrogant; he ends up rich and arrogant - it's just some people die along the way), or any kind of conflict, this play fails to live up to its grand ambitions.Robert Lindsay prowls as the eponymous hero, giving a hammy, larger-than-life performance full of vulgarity and brashness. It smacks of a fine actor making up for the lack of a decent script with flailing hand gestures, overdone emotion and a wandering accent.As Jackie O, Lydia Leonard drawls her way sleepily around the stage like a Southern Belle, looking, if not sounding, the part. (We thought Jackie was from New York?) Better is Anna Francolini as Onassis' spurned lover Maria Callas, who's diva-ish to the extreme: at least we're sure she's awake.And if the pseudo Greek chorus of financial advisors and employees with their crowbarred invocations to Aphrodite and Athena begins to grate, at least Katrina Lindsay's stylish set looks suitably Grecian. The clever use of water on stage gives a sense of the sea or a swimming pool, and great lighting transforms simple white lines from a night-time yacht to a villa basking in Mediterranean sunshine.In sticking so close to staid biography, and without a sparky script to lift it, this play reveals Onassis's story is little more than that of an unscrupulous, delusional rich bloke from old copies of Hello! magazine: far from an epic hero.Onassis plays at the Novello Theatre until 8 January 2010. Tickets from £12.50 - £49.50. Call 0844 482 5170 or visit www.onassistheplay.com for more information.
Theatre Review: Onassis @ the Novello Theatre
Last Updated 13 October 2010