Lies Have Been Told: An Evening With Robert Maxwell, Trafalgar Studios 2, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The man they dubbed "the bouncing Czech" bounces back from the grave to mount a typically bombastic self-defence in Rod Beacham's blackly comic and immensely enjoyable one-man play about the Mirror tycoon and pension-fund looter, Robert Maxwell.

Impersonated with uncanny accuracy by Philip York, Cap'n Bob seizes his chance with voracious appetite, guzzling Beluga caviar, slurping champagne and bawling at underlings down the phone.

One of the show's producers is Dale Djerassi, who was Maxwell's son-in-law for many years. He claims, in a programme note, to have "got along with him the entire time". So it's not surprising that the piece is no straightforward hatchet-job. But neither does it wield the whitewash brush with undue loyalty; instead, Lies Have Been Told (note the evasively passive construction) is an exercise in provocative ambivalence.

Taunting and teasing the audience, York's Maxwell revels in the bullying charm that bamboozled bankers and enabled him to raise huge loans, even though he had been declared unfit to run a public company. Like Shakespeare's Richard III, confiding his skulduggeries to the flattered punters, he defies us not to be seduced.

The show is, in part, a striptease, literally so when York removes his padded belly and takes us through the early career of an East European Jew brought up in desperate poverty by a family largely wiped out in the Holocaust, who had the Military Cross pinned to his chest by Monty, and who was disillusioned to discover that the English Establishment was quite prepared to close ranks against a Jewish war-hero. And he rages at the preferential treatment accorded to Rupert Murdoch - a non-combatant who is about as English "as a kangaroo sandwich".

As he mocks us with alternative versions of his watery end (suicide, espionage, accident?), he exults in remaining a enigma. Only at the close is there, perhaps, some genuine soul-baring; the megalomaniac greed, he suggests, is the result of a destitute childhood that left him unable to feel that he had ever had "enough".

One would feel sorrier for this man if Beacham's Maxwell could spare one thought for the plight of the Mirror Group pensioners, who presumably are not the target audience of this clever, compelling show.

To 28 January (0870 060 6632)

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