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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Robert Lindsay in Onassis at The Novello Theatre

It is two years since Onassis made its debut at The Chichester Festival Theatre under the former title of Aristo. The play, written by Martin Sherman is a kind of biography that obsesses rather too much on far-fetched conspiracy theories, and has obvious and frequent allusions to Greek tragedy.

I did not think much of the play, but am surprised to see the host of one star reviews it has provoked. Despite the material, how so many critics can deem Robert Lindsay’s performance as only worthy of one star is beyond me, as I think he is utterly fabulous as the egocentric lead. I went to school with Lindsay’s daughter, who is now also in the theatre world. I always enjoy watching him perform and feel he has a real ease on stage. As Onassis he is utterly surprising, I couldn’t quite believe it was him. He commands the stage and charms all he touches, how he makes such a brute seem appealing is a miracle. I was particularly impressed by his authentic sounding Greek accent that isn't matched by any of the Greek characters.

Other than Lindsay there is little else to be excited about. I found Tom Austen, who plays Onassis’ moaning son, to be unbearably soppy. Unfortunately his accent is so confused it distracted me from actually watching his performance. Jackie Kennedy is played by Lydia Leonard who seemed fed up throughout and just isn’t a particularly engaging character. The muse Maria Callas is taken on by Anna Francolini who looks almost identical to the famous opera singer. I enjoyed her diva presence and her frantically aggressive interactions with Robert Lindsay.

Sherman’s play comes complete with Greek Chorus who mope about in the background for most of the performance. The two musicians Ben Grove and Graeme Taylor play Ilona Sekacz’s lilting music beautifully on their guitars but there is just a little bit too much of it, and it became boring, especially when the wailing women in the ensemble join in. The set, by Katrina Lindsay, is quite appealing and has a marine slickness about it, with a glistening pool of water at the front that the actors seem to have fun playing about with. Onassis the play isn’t worth seeing, but Robert Lindsay's rendition of the man is.

Onassis continues until 5 February, 2011. Book here.

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