Part of what drew me to the Little Theatre’s production of Frost Nixon was Leicester drama society director Rick Lamoures’ ambition. Peter Morgan’s 2006 stage production focused on the Landmark tv Interview between the suave Talk Show host David and disgraced republican president Richard Nixon won massive critical acclaim. It gained Tony nominations and oscar nominations for its 2008 film adaption (both starring Michael Sheen and Frank Langella as Frost and Nison respectively). To tackle a work like this carries meaty demands for any company, even one with the reputation of the volunteer run Leicester Drama Society. How would it live up ?
The play focuses on the real life event of 1977 when up and coming British talk show host and satirist David Frost interviewed disgraced former president Richard Nixon. Frost trying to gain credibility and salvage his floundering career invested millions personally to procure the interview with Nixon. Who was desperately trying to salvage his political legacy and viewed Frost as an easy path to political salvation. In spite of this Frost managed to hold the man at the centre of scandals including Watergate and the Vietnam war to account and produce televisual and political history.
One of the strength of this production is the cast who nail the key aspects of Morgans script. The titular characters in particular are measured rounded portrayals, solidly conveying the mannerisms of the two subjects without straying into savage caricatures. Paul Large deserves particular credit for his performance as Nixon, portraying him as neither likable or the cartoonish villain of the piece. He’s deluded, corrupt, but never tyrannical. Bumbling, at times pompous, aloof, but also uncertain and towards the interviews dramatic climax, contrite.
Kenton Hall’s portrayal of Frost is also impressively balanced, adding edge and angst, not just aping Frost suave, inoffensive, slightly bland talk show host/ playboy public persona . Yes this aspect is there, but the performance really conveys Frosts struggle as he deals with immense personal and financial pressures of firstly getting the interview and then making use of it to hold Nixon to account, a task which Frost does not always seem totally convicted. They are aided by a supporting cast who provide who perfect foils for the central pair to feed off whilst also rounding out the narrative giving insight into what was happening behind the scenes on both sides
The staging and setting is also a very effective and impressive for a production of this scale. The back drop has a definite seventies talk show vibe, locking you into the period. However it’s versatile enough to work as multiple settings such as a TV set, Nixon’s Mansion and Frost’s hotel suite with props designed to convey aspects of both protagonists values. A bed set up on the left of the stage for Frost, an obvious nod to the more open liberal values he represents in this encounter, as opposed to scenes inside the Nixon camp always on the right set around a formal mahogany desk. Whilst the later use of spotlight and the Mastermind style leather chair during the interview sequence, really captures the the aesthetic of the original broadcasts.
The production stays largely faithful to Peter Morgan’s original script sticking to its to its standard costume drama formula. Through very able performances and professional, well thought out stage direction and setting, it does a solid job of capturing the essence of its award winning source material. If anything such touches suggest the society could have allow themselves a little more dramatic license in places, really placing their own stamp on it rather than simply recreating what has happened gone before it. Also it has been billed in some ads as a comedy, which does it a disservice. It has moments of comic relief but the general feel is undeniably dramatic throughout.However overall this is a well executed retelling of a quality piece of political drama.
Frost Nixon is at The Little Theatre until Sunday.