“The whole impression is one of a gathering and important moment.”
It’s a generational, media churned, thing. For Brits over 40 to call Peter Morgan’s Frost / Nixon (2006) the ‘real deal’, might be to ask ‘Collectable’ or ‘Antique’?; for Bedlam’s student audience this enthralling play on fact is simply ‘Legit’. Producer Patrick Beddow can be well pleased with its timeliness, coming as it does during the objectionable and tawdry business of the Hillary and Donald Show. Doubtless Frost / Nixon is relevant as U.S political history from 1977 but director Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller and cast make darned sure that it will still grab your attention as a piece of theatre.
David Frost died in 2013 and has the latest memorial stone in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, which says a lot about the influence of TV these days. Anyhow, he was 39 when he interviewed former President Richard Nixon, three years after Nixon was forced to resign following Watergate. Twenty-four hours plus of recorded material was edited into four ninety minute broadcasts. The first, on 5 May 1977, drew 45 million viewers, still the largest television audience for a political interview ever. Frost /Nixon is the story of how this big (and very real) deal happened, or kind of happened, and how it played out on all those screens. Frost was reckoned a lightweight, capable of only pitching softball questions, ‘puffballs’, that Nixon would just smash over the outfield fence and pocket $600,000. Well, he got his money – and a snazzy gift of Italian shoes – but not all the home runs.
Paddy Echlin is Nixon and Callum Pope is Frost and one on one, with a strong script, it’s a revealing double act. Frost, dapper and debonair, is still a shrewd operator. Nixon, is clever, practised, and self-assured almost to the last. Voice, gesture, timing are studied and effective. Off-camera – and there are cameras on stage – you get just enough of their personal lives to feel interested. Whether, you should sympathise with Richard Nixon is, of course, a contentious question but Echlin’s performance may well win you round. His chief of staff, Jack Brennan (Sasha Briggs), defends him against the liberal ‘side’, where Macleod Stephen as James Reston is particularly telling as player and commentator.
It’s 90 minutes straight through with no interval, which is a good call. Scenes proceed briskly and there are only a few chairs to move around and the whole impression is one of a gathering and important moment. The cameras provide some tight close-ups, and are a helpful reminder that this is a made-for-television ‘event’, but the flood lights do fade Nixon’s jowls to nothing. Otherwise, this is illuminating work.
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 12 October)
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