BWW Review: FROST/NIXON, Crucible, Sheffield
Ten years on, it's great to welcome the play back to the theatre and relive the story of British TV presenter David Frost securing interviews with former president Richard Nixon, and finally getting under the skin of the Watergate scandal.
Director Kate Hewitt and designer Ben Stones transport us to a Seventies TV studio, serving as the backdrop to all the action - even when scenes take place in other settings, such as an aeroplane or bedroom. This, coupled with the giant TV screens hanging above the stage, is a nice touch, reminding us always of the way television serves at different points to both obfuscate and reveal 'truth' - a key theme of this play that has real resonance in our current political climate.
Daniel Rigby as David Frost and Jonathan Hyde as Richard Nixon are the star draws here, and whilst both take a little acclimatising in the first few minutes - partly finding their sound levels in the theatre space - they soon become transformed into the men they are portraying.
Their performances manage to walk the line between impersonation and sincerity effectively, without veering too much into the realm of caricature. It is never easy replicating famous people - not least when they have already been replicated in a film that many of the audience will have seen - but they are both convincing and commanding in their respective roles.
Hyde's Nixon, in particular, has real layers: we can see the insecurity beneath the bravado as Nixon's self-confidence ebbs away. It's a gift of a part, and he absolutely makes it his.
Rigby and Hyde are ably supported by the rest of the cast, with David Sturzaker as Jim Renton and Ben Dilloway as Jack Brennan also taking on meaty roles - their characters serving as twin narrators, one per 'side'.
Members of Sheffield People's Theatre are on hand as extras to give a feeling of busyness around the TV production, as well as enabling swift set changes. As a Doctor Who fan, it was also a treat to see Dan Starkey, a regular in the show and its spin-offs, relishing his role as Nixon's agent Swifty Lazar.
It's a shame there are no real substantial female roles in the play. The largest of these, Caroline Cushing, ultimately provides little more than a prop for Frost, when at the start she seems to have quite a sparky personality.
This, of course, is an issue with the source material (and the culture of the Seventies TV industry) rather than the production itself, which does at least put a woman in the role of director for the filming of the TV interviews. Nevertheless, it feels a little unfortunately timed in this #MeToo era, even with a female director at the helm of the show.
This production is pacy - necessarily, given that it's a one-hour-45-minute show with no interval. Before it began, I was sceptical as to whether this would prove to be an issue for the audience, and did note one or two people sneaking out for bathroom breaks when the lights were low, but I think keeping it as a one-act play mostly works for maintaining the intensity of the piece.
The set and costumes are beautifully realised, with the furniture and props in particular feeling very authentically period. The use of overhead screens to communicate some of the action is effective in terms of always reminding us of television and the mediation process. This is most successful when they are used to play pre-recorded footage.
When the screens are used to broadcast the action on stage, there is a slight delay in the relay, which makes the video footage a fraction of a second slower than the performance. For me, this was a little bit too distracting - although I do appreciate the attempts to honour the script and amplify expressions through "the power of the close-up".
Frost/Nixon is a funny, yet still serious, take on the story of these extraordinary interviews between the former US president and the British TV host. This production is well realised and very entertaining, with a beautiful set and big performances.
A little over 40 years since these interviews were aired, the relationship between the President, the media and the US people remains as complicated and fraught as it was then. The issues at the heart of this play - truth, honour, showmanship, success, popularity, legacy - remain topical, making this story well worth the revisit.
Frost/Nixon is at the Crucible, Sheffield, until 17 March. Book tickets
Photo by Mark Douet.