The Paine family is together in London this week. We are celebrating two birthdays. Mrs P's was yesterday and Miss P the Younger is having a 21st birthday party at a London club on Saturday night (though she actually shares her birthday with Jesus Christ).
We are a family of theatre goers and we went to see Robert Lindsay (an actor whose work we admire) in Onassis at the Novello on Monday night. Lindsay did not disappoint. He inhabited the role as convincingly as his character (speaking of his sexual prowess) claimed that he "inhabited the house, when other men merely pop in for a visit." Still, it was one of those productions for which the only question is "why?"
Why did Lindsay set himself the task of squeezing something good out of this awful part? Why, for that matter, did Martin Sherman bother to write the play? Either he had no story to tell, or he didn't manage to tell it. The script is a fizzle and phut display of minor theatrical pyrotechnics. The Greek chorus conceit grates after minutes. The fourth wall is not so much broken as never erected. There are some good lines but the only discernible purpose seems to be for Sherman to show us how clever he thinks he is.
At the end of the evening, we have only learned that Robert Lindsay needs a new agent. And as always, when businessmen are portrayed, there's the nagging thought that the playwright's only real "why" is to denigrate all who generate wealth. The Novello Theatre's online pitch says, in the authentically prissy voice of Guardian readers everywhere;
...those with great wealth and political influence live their lives detached from the moral code and realities of ordinary mortals...
Yawn. Try walking through the city centre of my Northern home town on a Saturday night and then tell me of the moral code of ordinary mortals. Onassis was simply one of those mortals with a yacht and the means to pay for better whores. I would not want him to stand as any kind of representative for the business world, but even his epic corruption seems tame compared to that of the "progressive" Kennedy clan. And I didn't need to be reminded of the sad fact that 60s style icon Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was no better than she should be. Men may foolishly conflate beauty and intelligence in women but even we are not daft enough to confuse looks and morality.
The production was clever clever. The actors acted well. The set designer had designed with a right good will. But when you find yourself observing the technical details, it's a sure sign the show's not working. I am afraid that, on Lindsay's 61st birthday (sorry, dear boy), I found myself looking into his eyes as my own forced themselves closed and I nodded off. Save your money, dear readers. He's a good actor, but you knew that and the play's the thing. Except this one isn't.