Novello Theatre, London (2010)
Summary: Tediously told life story of self made multi-billionaire and womaniser; downright boring
It’s not very often that I’m at complete odds with the better theatre critics out there, but here’s a key occasion. This play has been lauded with 4 and 5 star reviews and fawning praise from some of the most august theatre critics out there. And I just don’t get it.
Before I continue, I should also point out that such was my dislike for this play that I left at the intermission. Granted that is highly unprofessional, but as I’m not a professional critic, I don’t see much of a problem. That said, it’s only fair that you should know.
The play is basically about the life of Aristotle Onassis and as such, it should be great. One of the richest men on the planet, a huge womaniser, maried to Jackie Kennedy, lover of Maria Callas, funder of the PLO, collaborator to the murder of Bobby Kennedy and much, much more besides.
Sounds like a real page turner, and so it should be. There’s much in Onassis’ life that’s ripe for a rollicking good yarn, and this play misses it all.
The problem with it is that there’s no angle, no point of focus on this turbulent and engaging life. The writer could have anchored his portrayal of Onasis on his business, his women, his relationship with the Kennedys, his relationship with his son, or a wealth of other focus points; but he doesn’t. He addresses all of the above and much more, but in such a flimsy manner that you are left slightly confused and rather unengaged.
In one of the more interesting ideas of the play, they mimic a Greek tragedy in that a ‘chorus’ is used to progress the story and fill in any gaps for the audience. In this case the chorus is made up of various people in Onassis’ life – his accountant, his house keeper, his confidante etc. all who pop up now and then and update you on where you are in the story and give you some background on the following scene.
Whilst an interesting approach, the problem here is that without a focus or theme to the play, you’re left wondering why they have chosen the scenes they have to act out. There’s no reason why one part of his life is acted out and another is told to us by the chorus. And this mish-mash approach results in a complete lack of engagement with some of the key cast. For example, there’s no relationship between the audience and Callas, so when she goes into a rage (on finding out about Onassis’ relationship with Jackie Kennedy), you don’t care.
There’s some fine acting here, but theres so much wanting from this production that it’s not enough to keep you engaged with what’s happening. Well, not enough to keep me engaged.