Theatre Review: Onassis

Posted on: 22 October 2010 by Mark O'haire

One man's voracious appetite for sex, money and power was embodied in Greek multi-millionaire shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis.

He is perhaps best remembered today for his relationships with two of the world's most famous women Maria Callas and Jackie Kennedy. Now playwright Martin Sherman has attempted to illuminate the final years of his life in the bio-drama entitled simply Onassis (Novello Theatre), directed by Nancy Meckler.

Sherman here explores the dark aspects of Onassis's character, his ranting fixations and hatreds of the Kennedys and Robert Kennedy in particular as murky conspiracy theories will have us believe he was involved in the latter's assassination as well as his womanising. Opera soprano Maria Callas had an affair with him and so did Jackie Kennedy, later becoming his wife.

What should have been a fascinating drama about a bruised, flawed figure who could be regarded as the forerunner of our current obsession with fame and the celebrity cult, emerges as a static, modern Greek tragedy, complete with a chorus of bystanders and repeated invocations of the gods, which perhaps is apt considering Onassis's interest in classical mythology.

But Sherman's lacklustre script – the story is narrated for the most part by Onassis's right-hand man - fails to give the play any dramatic impetus and we are left with the feeling that the work seems to have been culled from an assortment of tabloid newspaper cuttings rather than a real understanding of the subject.

However the evening is saved by a magnetic central performance by Robert Lindsay as the infamous protagonist who became a millionaire at the age of 25, bringing a combination of wit and reptilian menace to a man who could be charming one minute and vicious the next. Lydia Leonard seems miscast as Jackie Kennedy whom she in no way resembles and also lacks the necessary charisma, but Anna Francolini not only looks like the diva-ish Callas but also strongly convinces in the role. Katrina Lindsay's atmospheric set also deserves praise, making us feel we are actually in the Mediterranean on board Onassisâ's yacht and there is also some lively bouzouki music which suggests that the play should have been called Onassis the Greek.

Plays until January 8.

By Laurence Green

Box office: 0844 482 5170

Press: Peter Thompson Associates 020 7439 1210

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