Power, sex, greed and Greek mythology meet in Martin Sherman’s decadent Onassis, with Robert Lindsay commanding the stage as the title character in a role that requires, above all else, an almost fatal overdose of egotism.
If Gordon Gecko made the words “Greed is good” famous in the 1980s film Wall Street, Aristotle Onassis was surely his inspiration. Rich beyond anyone’s comprehension, the head of a powerful Greek dynasty and full to the brim with arrogant cockiness, Onassis had the world at his feet. A womaniser with a list of lovers that read like the Forbes rich list, there was one woman who held a particular allure, Jacqueline Kennedy.
This is where Sherman’s political drama – albeit it one that often places more emphasis on the stylishness of the protagonists rather than the dry facts – begins. A love affair between two of the most powerful people in the world is doomed not to run smoothly, and with a fiery Maria Callas in the wings, an all-too-good son present, and the occurrence of two of the most famous assassinations in history, Onassis’s life begins to crumble.
Directed by Nancy Meckler, the decadence and style of Onassis and Kennedy’s lives is just hinted at with lavish lighting tricks creating the water around a yacht or projected videos providing dreamy scenic backdrops, and minimal props conveying a sense of luxury. The emphasis on stage is always placed on the observers who sit at taverna tables and sing Greek folk songs while stepping up to narrate the story.
While Lydia Leonard does a fine job as Kennedy, treating her as a hardened, but elegant Audrey Hepburn figure, and Anna Francolini is amusing as the overdramatic and unhinged Callas, the women in Onassis’s life are really secondary characters to the ensemble. Onassis is a god, not only in the eyes of others, but in his own. Cocky, assured, sexy and with a biting sarcastic wit, Lindsay embodies the magnate, feeling the stage with his ego.
Amongst the very human business deals, corruption and self-indulgence that Onassis centres around is the intangible; the questions of morality and the belief in the great Greek Gods. But as Onassis comes to realise, you can only play a god on earth for so long before you enevitably fall from grace.