Review: Frost/Nixon

SOPHIE WILLIAMS 6 November 2013

7.45pm, Tue 5 to Sat 9 Nov 2013, ADC Theatre

Frost/Nixon was clearly intended to follow in the footsteps of the ADC’s previous attempts at producing big, shiny, quasi-professional slices of theatrical Americana – think last year’s Enron, Glengarry Glen Ross – yet Frost/Nixon, unlike the earlier shows, doesn’t quite work. Perhaps it’s because the play is surprisingly badly-written for a play that was turned into an Oscar-winner. If someone had told me it had been written by a 17-year-old with pretentions of getting onto the Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme, I would believe them. The play opens with the tragedy buzzwords “Aeschylus” and “hubris” even though the play is not a tragedy; characters break the fourth wall to tell us about the look in David Frost’s eyes or to tell us an important moment is coming up; there is an awkward scene where Nixon draws a tired parallel between he and his interviewer in that they both face the judgement of higher-class snobs, but this feels contrived and hollow. Not all adversaries, Peter Morgan, need to actually, secretly (oh my goodness!) be alike.

Along with such clunky exposition, the set itself is clunky: the stage is inexplicably littered with plywood boxes that bang and clang as the ensemble cast move them around, and indeed most of the cast are relegated to prop-handlers throughout the production. Some of the cast were the only things that gave me hope about the badly-staged production, Robbie Aird as Nixon in particular. Though there will always be something lacking when a 20-year-old plays a sexagenarian, no one in Cambridge could have played Nixon better. He pretty much was Nixon.

The same cannot be said about James Evans who played David Frost – supposedly. He was probably better at looking and acting like David Frost’s type – the charismatic, TV-ready playboy – than Frost was, but his portrayal was disappointing for an audience inevitably highly aware of the man himself. When the excellent Ben Walsh as John Birt did an eerily accurate impression of the real Frost, the audience sagged with the realisation that this is what the production is missing. Nixon’s interviewer ceased to be Frost, the worthy adversary, and became merely any other shinily handsome television interviewer with great hair. Special mention must go to Kay Dent and Sophia Flohr for convincingly playing blokes and Gabriel Cagan for his fabulous range of American accents. Otherwise this production was, to me, unsatisfactory. But then as I was unlocking my bike, a woman I had never met before waxed lyrical about the show, particularly commending Evans for his portrayal as Frost. I wasn’t quite sold. She then said that he also reminded her of a young Tony Blair. That I could see.

It’s worth seeing the play if you are a fan of American politics, cross-casting, or the prolific Mr. Aird. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth braving the cold for.