When Peter Morgan’s play transferred from the West End to Broadway, the Americans wanted to call it Nixon/Frost. They had a point beyond pure jingoism because it is the former US President who dominates the drama, and this is especially so here thanks to an extraordinary performance by Jonathan Hyde who uncannily inhabits Tricky Dicky in voice, facial expression and physical gesture without it being an impersonation.
It is post-Watergate 1977 and Nixon has resigned to avoid impeachment and we follow British TV talk show host Frost as he negotiates a deal for a series of exclusive interviews which do not go well for him at first before he elicits that sensational admission.
Daniel Rigby wisely avoids an impersonation of David Frost which became something of a comic routine back in the day. But it does leave him with a character who’s for the most part the straight man in this double act.
Not that it is simply a double act. The story is narrated from opposite viewpoints, Nixon’s hardass military aide Jack Brennan (Ben Dilloway) and Jim Reston (David Sturzaker), impassioned researcher on the Frost team who proves to be the real hero of the piece by coming up at the 11th hour with the evidence which ultimately causes Nixon to capitulate.
Director Kate Hewitt makes what sounds on paper like a dry two-hander into a riveting theatrical experience by filling the stage with movement (Sheffield People’s Theatre augment the large cast as aides and TV technicians) and astute use of video imagery (designed by Andrzej Goulding) which in the climactic showdown shows the power of the close-up in seeing Nixon’s discomfort. The production benefits from digital technology not available when the play ran in 2009.
* Ian Soutar