Theatre: Another White House farce

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The Independent Culture
AMERICANS LOVE Royalty. Long before their love affair with Diana, Princess of Wales, they had been mocking the Royal Family while stealing their dress sense. For instance, headscarves. A spot of windy weather, and our dear Queen is rarely without one. And who knew that better than Jackie Kennedy, who took to tying one under the chin, donning dark glasses and turning herself into a fashion statement.

I mention the Queen not only because Jackie and Jack Kennedy were the nearest that Americans got to royalty, but because it is surely impossible to do a show about her without its being camp. Alas, no. Of course, the point about camp is that it is not a thing in itself: it's an attitude. And an attitude is precisely what Jackie lacks. The writer Gip Hoppe wants it every which way. One minute he's portraying his heroine as the victim of power-hungry parents and the evil machinations of the dynastic Kennedys, the next he's suggesting that she was nothing but the high priestess of shopping. Worst of all, however, is the lecture. Pardon?

The show opens and closes with Jackie telling us off for being there, for being too interested in other people's lives. Well pardon me, but apart from investors, critics and friends of the cast, who do they think is watching all this? Patronising your audience is not the best way of encouraging us to feel good about what we're witnessing. However, if you're the kind of person who, at the mere sight of the male members of the cast in skirts and false breasts, is likely to have hysterics, this show is for you.

It helps things not one jot that the actress Gretchen Egolf is a dead ringer for Jackie, right down to the strangely square face, almond eyes and straight mouth. Unfortunately, she's playing Jackie's sister Lee. Egolf's programme biography mentions that she was in the original Broadway production. I'd lay money that she played the title role over there, but here we have a vapid Lysette Anthony, whose most outstanding feature is that she looks startlingly like Hillary Clinton.

The hard-working cast play dozens of roles in this two-and-three-quarter hour, er, trot through Jackie's life, with the gags overstressed and the scenes underwritten (I am no expert, but I knew no more about Jackie when I left than when I arrived). Mark Caven has fun as a flubberingly grotesque Richard Nixon and Egolf comes on strong as a dementedly vengeful Christina Onassis, but could we discuss matters such as the Mittel-European accent given to Marilyn Monroe? On second thoughts, let's not.

I'm sorry, but even the lighting is bad. The only good moments are those supplied by Erminio Pinque's witty puppets, which range from a 15-ft-high Joe Kennedy to entire soft-sculptured crowds. The effect is like watching a live (sort of) edition of Spitting Image, but with scripts by Sooty and Sweep. At one point Jackie's father cries: "I can't take this charade any more." Quite.