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Onassis & Pussy Galore

By • West End
Before we got stuck into Aristotle Onassis and his lurid personal life at the Novello last night, I asked Honor Blackman, who was sitting right next to me with her regular escort, Nickolas Grace, if she had ever known the old rascal.

Not "known" in the Biblical sense, of course, but encountered. She hadn't, and didn't regret the social vacuum. She'd probably seen quite enough of the international jet-settting high life as Pussy Galore in the Bond movie Goldfinger.

In fact, she told me, she had spent the day searching for a better dress than the one she'd been allocated for a Bond-themed evening of music and anecdotes she is working on with composer Carl Davis.

Still incredibly beautiful and gracious, it's incredible to think that she is 85 years old and still "up for it." Though perhaps not any longer in the way that Ari Onassis would understand.

I said I was delightwed to learn that she still figured as a Bond girl (move over, Rosamund Pike). "Well, with that name, it's hardly surprising," she purred wickedly, giving me a saucy wink.

I never saw Onassis two years ago at Chichester, when Elizabteh McGovern played Jackie Kennedy and Diana Quick, Maria Callas. Playwright Martin Sherman is on record as saying that he found some of the negative notices there quite helpful, though I doubt if he feels the same way about Michael Billington's one-star demolition job in the Guardian this morning.

Personally, I fell on Robert Lindsay's knockout performance as Ari with relief and relish after the uptight, self-conscious acting in The Country Girl the night before.

And I like the fact that Sherman's play tells us a lot as while straining for a new kind of Greek tragedy, using chorus and premonition, music and lighting, messengers and curses in its structural framework: and you simply can't take your eyes off Lindsay.

He manages an Olivieresque physical transformation in making his head seem much larger than it is, with the use of a luxuriant, swept back hairstyle and some over-large spectacles. He's more lithe than stocky, admittedly, but he "acts" the stockiness whole retaining the right to be elegant and light on his feet, another variation on his all-consuming vanity.

Lindsay, like David Suchet and Kevin Spacey, has the gravitas, stillness and weight, as well the vocal resources, of the truly great actor. And yet he never figures in any discussion of that label alongside more predictable contestants for it, perhaps, as Simon Russell Beale, Mark Rylance, Antony Sher and Kenneth Branagh.

Oddly enough, he was a slightly disappointing Richard III at the RSC. But I count his performances in Me and My Girl and The Entertainer among the greatest I have ever seen. And of course he's unfailingly brilliant, and very funny, always, on television.

He is surrounded on stage at the Novello with some of my favourite supporting actors, though I couldn't work out why Anna Francolini had been cast as Callas without being invited to sing something.

Gawn Grainger, who worked with and knew Olivier well, struggles a bit with the opening list of characters satelliting round Onassis, but soon settles in with his trademark smoothness and likeability. And Liz Crowther, Sue Kelvin and John Hodgkinson all have telling moments replete with individual talent and years of experience.

Honor seemed to be looking on with approval, but kept her counsel, and her seat, while the rest of us dispersed in the interval throng in search of a glass of house Retsina.

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