It was the head-to-head that, even at the time, seemed almost unthinkable; a televised face-off between British chat-show host David Frost—certainly at the time not exactly known for delivering hard-hitting journalism—and the former US president Richard Nixon, who had been ultimately forced to resign from the White House thanks to his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Peter Morgan’s award-winning play about the interviews (later made into a film) is a political thriller that, at times, is surprisingly funny; that, in itself, is by no means an easy thing for any director and cast to pull off.
Morgan’s script quite intentionally frames the Frost/Nixon interviews as a boxing match, with the two combatants centre-stage, supported by their respective teams in opposite corners.
However, on a largely empty stage (with just a few chairs and a small table to serve as successive studios and recording locations), that’s what EUTC director Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller and producer Patrick Beddow manage to achieve. Their principle foundation are the show’s two leads, Callum Pope and Paddy Echlin as (respectively), Frost and Nixon. That said, Macleod Stephen and Rob Younger give equally valuable service as the liberal Americans Jim Reston and Bob Zelnick – Frost’s principle researchers, out for a full no-holds-barred apology” — although Reston doesn’t always appear entirely comfortable when serving as the play’s narrator.
While, on occasions, veering dangerously towards the Churchillian, Echilin’s Nixon is no shallow impersonation; he plays the man with some insight and sensitivity. Pope’s Frost, admittedly, comes across as a tad posher than the man himself, but Pope successfully hints at the fragility beneath the sad-eyed eligible bachelor happy to chat up the socialite Caroline Cushing (an excellent Bella Rogers in arguably the most unforgiving of roles) while flying to the US. An unexpected casting decision—perhaps simply down to limited availability—pays dividends, however; Sasha Briggs is truly centred as Nixon’s chief of staff, Jack Brennan, to Sasha Briggs.
Morgan’s script quite intentionally frames the Frost/Nixon interviews as a boxing match, with the two combatants centre-stage, supported by their respective teams in opposite corners. The tension isn’t always what you might hope for, admittedly—sometimes, it’s more a case of tell rather than show—but then it’s always a challenge to give life to a conflict when the end result is so well known. And Nixon was never going to go for “a cascade of candour”. Director Brimmer-Beller nevertheless makes good use of the cast and stage; the pace never drops, with all the major dramatic moments landed with real impact, even if the script has that predictable final “knock-out punch” appear almost from nowhere.
Admittedly, there were some technical disappointments in the production; while the decision to use cameras to project the “television image” on the rear wall was inherently a good one, the results—even ignoring some apparent technical hitches on the night of the review—were generally too dark to be truly impactful. Nevertheless, this was an entertaining and extremely promising production of a by no-means easy script.