Paul Johnson | 28 Jun 2013 21:02pm
Frost/Nixon is without question one of the most gripping pieces of theatre of the new millennium. Written by Peter Morgan, who also brought us The Queen, The Last King of Scotland and The Damned United, Frost/Nixon dramatises the events surrounding David Frost’s televised interviews with former President, Richard Nixon in 1977. Morgan’s stylish writing likens the set of interviews to a championship boxing match. In an interesting mismatch we had David Frost (the challenger), a light-entertainment talk-show host, against Richard Nixon (the champion), a political heavyweight that, so far, had been able to dodge all punches. The heavy focus on the contrast between both camps’ credentials is the ace up Morgan’s sleeve. Can the underdog topple the mighty warrior? The play brilliantly uses dramatic license to give the interviews a whole new level of tension and climax. Real broadcast transcripts mixed with with Morgan’s added drama brings the interviews to a jaw-dropping conclusion with Frost not only extracting an admission of guilt over Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate scandal, but an apology to boot. The 2006 run at the Donmar warehouse starring Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon was an award-winning masterpiece and the pair rightly reprised their roles two years later under Ron Howard’s experienced direction for the acclaimed 2008 film. For me, it’s always been a shame that Sheen’s performance as Frost was repeatedly overlooked by awards panels in favour of Langella’s powerful portrayal of Nixon. In my view, the pair matched each other – punch for punch. As far as the amateur sector goes Frost/Nixon is still something of a rarity; in fact I’m not even sure the performing rights have formally been released to the amateur market yet. However, one society that has managed to contact and persuade the right producer/agent and secure a dramatic stab at the challenging piece is Chelmsford Theatre Workshop, based in Essex. Then again, CTW is used to obtaining tricky licenses – only last year after sending a multitude of emails and letters, director Christine Davidson, managed to secure approval to mount a one-off run of Howard Brenton’s highly acclaimed Anne Boleyn, ahead of amateur rivals. This week, directed by CTW’s Mark Preston and Sally Ransom, Watergate came to Essex. While CTW took the Donmar’s ‘minimalistic’ lead (a word which should surely be music to an amateur society’s ears) I was a little disappointed with the lack of creativity – an aspect which is all the more important when you don’t have a set. For example, the all-important interview scenes were conducted using a pair of, what looked like, dining-room chairs as opposed to the soft armchairs similar to those used in 1977. There were no props to suggest the interview was being recorded/transmitted for television such as the odd TV monitor or two relaying Frost and Nixon’s faces etc. (in an age when virtually everyone possesses a camcorder this can’t have been that difficult to organise), and finally the lighting effects during the actual interviews was non-existent and lacked any sort of specific design change meaning there wasn’t any discernable difference to the stage lighting before, during and after the interviews. With all eyes solely on the acting CTW’s production delivered a mixed bag of performances. Top honours must go to a thoroughly convincing portrayal from Kevin Stamp as Richard Nixon. Here is an actor who has done his research delivering a tour de force – voice, mannerisms, age, health, personality. Nixon’s deterioration toward the climactic finale was spot on. Apart from Frost’s intellectual aide, John Birt (Martin Robinson), also looking like a fish out of water (and twenty-five years too old) there were some very pleasing supporting performances from both camps. Two deserving of special mention are Chris Green who was excellent as fanatical anti-Nixon campaigner, Jim Reston (looking very 1970s)! and Jack Brennan, Reston’s opposite number, and military man, played by Christian Search who was equally strong as Nixon’s close aide and who provided a great foil for the former president. Both Green and Search supplied much of the ‘boxing-style’ commentary throughout and between scenes which was delivered with great energy, pace !and perfect accents. In summing up this wasn’t a bad production; there were too many skilled actors onstage for that to happen. But with a little more creative direction – which wouldn’t have broken the bank – I’m sure the whole atmosphere and tension could have been cranked up a few more notches. And this is a play full of atmosphere and tension. Unfortunately, the Tuesday-night performance I attended had a very low audience turnout, which wouldn’t have helped the cast, so I’m sure as the week has progressed fuller houses will have made a world of difference to everyone.
- : admin
- : 25/06/2013