“I knew he was a pirate, I didn’t know he was a gangster”
Onassis is a play by Martin Sherman based on material from the book Nemesis by Peter Evans, which was originally produced under the title Aristo at Chichester two years ago. It covers the last 12 years of the life of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis as he wooed and married Jackie Kennedy, flirted with Maria Callas, sailed on his yacht, made shady deals with the likes of the Palestinians which may or may not have been involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Bobby Kennedy.
Robert Lindsay plays the central role who dominates everything whether in his personal life or his business affairs and consequently commands the stage almost entirely through the evening with his a foul-mouthed, twinkle-toed massively-larger-than-life performance that at times rises above the limitations of the material. As unfortunately Sherman has made little attempt to tell a story here, what we end up with is a torrent of information and an unchanging presentation of a rich man, even the most tragic of events have little emotional impact since there’s no extra dimension or depth to proceedings aside from an overused continuing reference to the Greek gods.
Gawn Grainger is saddled with the unenviable task of a massively long-winded piece of description of the tangled relationships in Onassis’ life, which is then perked up with an amusing projection of a flow chart suggesting a level of self-awareness which is soon sadly disabused as this exposition continues humourlessly throughout with a difficult narration device.
Because the focus is so squarely on its lead, the rest of the cast suffer with underwritten characters: Lydia Leonard as Jackie O has precious little to work with but still couldn’t keep her accent from wandering from New England to the Deep South and quite why Anna Francolini’s Maria Callas is on the poster for the show when she is in it for a couple of ineffective blink-and-miss-it appearances is anyone’s guess. As for the rest of the ensemble, the group of employees and staff meld into an amorphous whole which spouts Greek folk songs and proclamations at irritatingly regular intervals.
Katrina Lindsay’s white set with its letterbox cut-out and its surround of rippling water is nicely enhanced by Lorna Heavey’s projection work and Ben Ormerod’s lighting, suggesting Mediterranean leisure and Grecian opulence. But in not showing anything of the man behind the money, the empathy beneath the ego, it makes it difficult to form any meaningful engagement with the material.