By Peter Morgan
Directed by Michael Grandage
Venue: Donmar Theatre
Date: Thursday 5th October 2006
This was an excellent play brilliantly performed. There was a remarkable degree of dramatic tension, even though the outcome is already well known. I hadn’t known about the events leading up to the interviews, so there was a lot to learn. This is a dramatised account, of course, so you have to make allowance for artistic licence, but even so this was a great piece of theatre.
The Donmar is so small, there’s rarely much to the sets. A 6×6 bank of TVs on the back wall gave us any documentary footage or close-ups as needed, otherwise it was just chairs, desks, etc being brought on as required. We saw the development of the idea to interview Nixon, and some of the difficulties that had to be overcome, for example Nixon wanted a significant amount of money to do the interview, which David Frost apparently paid out of his own pocket. Nixon’s focus on the money side, obsession almost, was very clearly demonstrated. His abilities as a politician were also evident, and it was clear that the interviews were not going Frost’s way until the final session. Extra information had come to light, or rather been spotted by one of his researchers, which allowed Frost to combat Nixon effectively over Watergate. We could see the former president crumple before our eyes (and on the big screen as well). It was very powerful, and felt as if we were actually watching the real event unfold before us.
The differences of opinion between the Americans and Brits were also news to me, and added to the build-up of tension. There was also plenty of humour to help the two hours along. The two central performances were stunning. Michael Sheen was totally believable as David Frost, and caught his mannerisms to perfection. (He even appeared on Bremner, Bird and Fortune recently doing his David Frost as part of a sketch – pretty impressive.) Frank Langella wasn’t as jowly as Richard Nixon, but he conveyed the powerful presence of the man very well, and his delivery was excellent. All the support cast was good, and I hope this gets the transfer it deserves so more people can see it (and we might even sneak in a repeat performance ourselves).
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me