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A CurtainUp Review
Review of Frost-Nixon's premiere production in London by Lizzie Loveridge
Morgan's play is about how politics and the show business media are in each other's pocket. Both men have their reasons for doing these interviews: Frost to revive his dwindling television career and Nixon for the money and the chance to spin things his way. Peter Morgan's play draws parallels between Nixon and Frost as men -- in a fictionalised telephone conversation, he has a less than sober Nixon phoning Frost to compare notes on how they both were socially looked down upon, Frost by his contemporaries at Cambridge University and Nixon by the stalwarts of the Republican Party.
The play documents how Frost's profile is suffering with the cancellation of his Australian series and others, and how he funds the Nixon interview himself, rather than relying on backers. Swifty Lazar (Kerry Shale) is shown as Nixon's agent who presses Frost hard for the best achievable deal and equally hard for his commission from Tricky Dicky. Nixon is protected by Corey Johnson (Jack Brennan) his ex-military Chief of Staff who, passionately loyal, bears the brunt of Nixon's attempt at humour when he talks about some Cubans with CIA training, who he could send into Frost's hotel room. Frost is supported by Jim Reston (Elliot Cowan), his political researcher who is determined to nail Nixon and who eventually gives Frost the means to do exactly that. Reston narrates the play and is as near as it gets to a hero. Frost of course takes the credit, maybe the real reason he was despised by some at Cambridge. John Birt, later Director of the BBC, (Rufus Wright) nervously points out the risks that Frost is taking.
We see the rehearsals that Frost's team set up for him in order to brief for Nixon's ability to dodge the questions. Even so, Nixon completely plays Frost in the first interview taking 23 minutes to answer the first question and expertly deflecting Frost with emotion and prayer. The set uses a backdrop of five by five monitors to show close ups which I couldn't see from Row D in the side stalls. Neil Austin's lighting provides excitement and the play is broken up dynamically with lots of side scenes.
The acting credits go to Frank Langella's amazing performance. Not like Nixon to look at, his starring role is all the more remarkable. Who will ever be able to forget his asking for a handkerchief to wipe off the perspiration on his upper lip which the viewing public might construe as guilt? He plays a man who thinks his power places him beyond morality. "I'm saying that when the President does it, it's not illegal." Michael Sheen too gives a creditable performance, conveying some of Frost's drawly delivery without going over the top into parody. He is also shown making a move on a woman passenger on his transatlantic flight while Birt snoozes, Frost sleazes, but on the whole Peter Morgan lets Frost off more lightly than he deserves.
I'm in two minds about Frost Nixon. While I admire Michael Grandage's slick and fast moving production and the outstanding performances he has elicited from his cast, I am not sure that Peter Morgan has much to say about the events that is new. It is inevitable that this mixture of fact and imagination cannot be anything except supposition. As an example of cheque-book journalism, a reward for misdeeds and lying - Frost was paying Nixon more than $1 million, the Frost Nixon interviews are not really something anyone can be proud of. If you want to watch the interviews again, you might think they should be in the public domain after almost three decades, but no, Frost has his own website and you need to pay.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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