Writer: Peter Morgan
Director: Kate Hewitt
Designer: Ben Stones
Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent
Frost/Nixon is a colossal undertaking of a play. Even the title holds nothing back and straight away reveals to the audience what to expect. A fictionalised account of the infamous showdown between David Frost and Richard Nixon which was televised in 1977 and effectively brought about the end of Nixon’s post-presidential career. Peter Morgan has firmly established himself as an authority on biographical drama. Prior to Frost/Nixon was The Deal, which explored the Blair-Brown bond. His work is currently celebrated in The Crown on Netflix, inspired by his play The Audience which examined the relationship between Queen Elizabeth II and her Prime Ministers. His fascination with and artistry in envisioning these clandestine and high profile relationships is what consistently draws audiences to his work.
It’s interesting that Sheffield Theatres have chosen to resurrect this play now. True, it hasn’t been performed since its premiere at the Donmar Warehouse 12 years ago, but since then the play was adapted for the screen with its West End cast and directed by Ron Howard. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation, the script barely changed, so why now? Perhaps Sheffield Theatres are making their own comment on the current American presidency? We are once again living in a climate where the people are searching for the truth and maybe now more than ever we’d all long to be a fly on the wall. With Chicken Soup still playing in the Studio (a play inspired by the miners’ strike of ’84) Sheffield are certainly delivering some stirring political theatre this season, and after David Mamet’s announcement that he has written a play about Harvey Weinstein, maybe it’s a good time for theatre to get more political.
The set and costumes, designed by Ben Stones are charmingly authentic. There’s little in the way of large set pieces and all are wheeled on and off which often leaves the stage completely bare. The brave decision has been made to expose the very back of the theatre which further convinces the audience that we are on the production floor, watching the historic broadcast build up before us. Some banquette style units the circle the stage are used as seats and tables throughout and are cunningly coloured to match the seating in the theatre. An astute touch which ties the audience into the world on the show masterfully.
The one prevailing fixture in the space is a large lighting rig covered in material employed as three large screens in the centre of the stage. One of the aspects that make this play so compelling is the riveting screen work designed by Andrzej Goulding. The action is filmed and broadcast live on stage which offers unique perspectives rarely experienced in theatre. With the play being about the televising of such an intimate and high-pressure interview the duality of close up screen work and live acting helps achieve intimacy with or without proximity. A stylish and well-employed device.
When playing a real person the actor has the rigorous task of delivering a true interpretation without straying into an impression. Jonathan Hyde delivers an astonishing performance as Richard Nixon. He captures the authority that becomes even a disgraced president as well as finding vulnerability and humour. There are some wonderful if variable performances from the supporting cast. Daniel Rigby does a satisfying job portraying the charismatic David Frost, though as a lead he is more spoken about than he is speaking. Nevertheless, there is some pleasing ensemble work brilliantly supported by actors from the Sheffield People’s Theatre.
Runs until 17th March 2018 | Image: Mark Douet