Thursday, August 24, 2006

Character above all

Like many Americans I remain haunted by the legacy that is Richard Nixon. Although in my own act of historical reinterpretation, I no longer singly cast him as the Darth Vader of egregious south-east Asian policy, resulting in a million Indo-Chinese deaths. Sadly, we have moved on since Nixon. No longer does standing accused of subverting the Constitution, or torturing millions of innocent people, result in excommunication from political life. No, in our times, it signals re-election.

And so it was with nostalgic tendencies that I braced against the rising floodwaters of Covent Garden last night to see the world premiere of Frost/Nixon at the Donmar Warehouse. And whilst a simple retelling of one of the most famous moments in American history would have sufficed, Peter Morgan delivered so much more. Frost/Nixon is a thriller-like, edge of your seat recreation of how in 1977 the only man to ever resign from the U.S. Presidency, played out his guilt to the legendary British journalist, David Frost, before the largest-ever TV audience for a news interview.

On the surface, the play appears to posit Frost (played by Michael Sheen) and Nixon (played by Frank Langella) as conventional contenders in a boxing ring. In one corner, the supposed lightweight but flailing British talk show host: in the other, the austere remnants of power unflaggingly personified. And like any good fight, the challenger is hooked, jabbed and belted (here in the form of three failed interviews) before delivering the final knock out punch.

If not already obvious that Morgan is not interested in just a history on legs production, the plot is infused with interpretation. Morgan offers the audience a viewpoint of ostensible common ground between interviewer and interviewee: Nixon was disgraced, looking to rehabilitate himself; and Frost had lost his network talk show in the US and was looking to resurrect his career. A symbiotic relationship defined the two: both reputations hinged on the show's success. (Think Tom Cruise and any hapless talking head keen to interview him).

Morgan refrains from drawing axiomatic contemporary parallels. However, you don't have to be a Guardian reading, Cameron disparaging, Clinton defender to spot similarities between the Nixon White House attacks on the American media's alleged bias and those made under Bush. And herein my nostalgic appetite was satisfied. It's easy to say, and it often is said, that had Nixon come clean about Watergate in the beginning, when he had no direct responsibility, the affair would quickly have blown over and he would have survived.

But out from under the gripping power of Frost/Nixon you wonder if maybe, just maybe, in this instance things did happen for a (right) reason. Unlike Frost whose charismatic, self assurance lent itself to the camera, Nixon never trusted nor fully understood television. Think Clinton vs. Bush, but invert powers of intellect. A heroic stretch of the imagination, I realise. Yet, rather akin to picturing how Nixon, a solitary, introverted persona, would have survived in an era increasingly dominated by the boob tube. So maybe in the end it was Nixon's prescience, rather than reluctance, that told him to bow out.

And that is part of Frost/Nixon's hypnotising power, it appeals to our sense of nostalgia for seemingly 'simpler' considerations. Well, that and, for me, the writing of my own happy ending.

Book now, before media frenzy kicks off in full:

If I were a betting (wo)man, I would predict a West End transfer followed by Broadway so get in while you can. For best value ring the day of the performance for standing seats at £7.50. Running time is 155 minutes and the theatre is small so it's one of the best, unobstructed views in the house.

Until 7th Oct
Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, WC2
Tel 0870 060 6624,
£15-£29, £7.50 standing


Blogger Moaner Lisa said...

Sounds great. And standing tickets are the way to go. Not only cheap, they also allow to choose who you have next to you. So no need to return from the interval break dreading the prospect of a further hour and a bit trapped next to some dizzy girl with an irritating laugh, an old man who wheezes every time he inhales or similar.....You still have to pick your date right though.....

3:38 pm  
Anonymous overwaterandrain said...

Great writing CS. Almost felt like I was there. Show of the season I reckon? Great tip on the standing seats. Am new to City Slicker and just subscribed. Love the blog!

3:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very jealous you got a seat CS. I heard this morning on the radio it is tearing down the houses. Will definitely try the standing option. Nixon yes sadly was a simpler time. I do like your twist. Quite provoking.

4:05 pm  
Anonymous Claire said...

Just phoned the Donmar to try and book. Good options for matinees and otherwise quite limited. They said past 24 hours has been non stop on the phones. Everybody must read City Slicker he he. Will try for standing tomorrow. Cheers my dears for a good one. Gets my culture blood boiling

4:33 pm  
Blogger Shep said...

I'm a big fan of the strange beast that is US politics, and am one of the few people I know who is actually willing to stay up all night watching the UK's piss-poor coverage of the elections over there.

I was unmoved by Oliver Stone's film Nixon, which I felt showed us nothing at all. The real 'money shot' re. Nixon is to be found in the bile and invective of Hunter S. Thompson's writings - in particular Fear & Loathing On The Campaign Trail '72, which is in my opinion his best work.

This show looks good. It'll never get down to the english riviera though, will it? *sniff* Someone buy me a ticket for this weekend and I'll go as their date. I'm very cheap...

4:51 pm  
Anonymous Ella said...

Really Shep? I would definitely go along. I am in London this weekend too. Teaching myself how to download music for free obviously

5:06 pm  
Anonymous Deidra said...

Er, do we have our first City Slicker date? No way! This blog is outrageously fun and interesting and informative of course CS.

5:51 pm  
Anonymous Tanya said...

Just got 2 seats at £15 restricted view for next Thursday but very little left. Booking is down online best to call. They are very accommodating. I havent seen the film yet but somehow I expect this will be better. Can hardly wait!

6:02 pm  
Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Great insightful review - I only wish I could get to London in time to see this re-creation of the Frost/Nixon interviews. I remember watching the real thing in awe as a teenager. Guess I'll have to hope for a Broadway transfer.

6:53 pm  
Blogger Shep said...

Oh God I've turned her into a criminal...

Remember: Home taping is killing real music!

11:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:17 am  
Anonymous Sheilabysea said...

Oh Shep you are so lovely but why not you and City Slicker? She could move your business so to speak up to London. I cam see the film now...

12:31 am  
Blogger ian said...

I don't want to do the Slicker down, but I suspect the ticket frenzy may have a bit more to do with the feature on the Today programme than this blog :)

12:50 am  
Blogger Shep said...

Now now everyone, calm down. Remember: I am a gentleman. Oh yes I am.

They can go halves on a ticket for me, and I'll sit in the middle. Result!

(Just for God's sake no-one tell my wife, or I'll have to say it's the fault of everyone on this blog. Then you'd all be in trouble...)

7:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aw, Shep you are married? Game over. Ella not to fret we will sort this out yet!

7:19 am  
Anonymous Fiona said...

Yeah read bcak a post Ella is a good one. My mate Gerry met his new lady on there after 3 weeks, and a few freaks. See I can do the rhyming thing too

7:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang and just when I was starting to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ella be strong. Don't hide from CS in shame, please come back

7:53 am  
Blogger Sam said...

Wonderful article - beautifully written. And I'd love to see that show - it sounds fascinating.

8:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just booked a standing seat for this evening. THANKS City Slicker

10:34 am  
Anonymous James said...

Excellent writing City Slicker. Love your blog, a virgin to CS myself I will say now I will come back for more.

11:09 am  
Blogger Will said...

Is it mandatory that I have to say I love you're blog if I'm going to post a comment? No offence yous lot but obviously you wouldn't be reading it if you didn't like it. But then I'm English, we don't look favourably at bigging people up. City Slicker knows she's got a good blog, so say something interesting in your comment because I have to go through and read all the damn things to get to some interesting ones.

Actually it's not really my place to say any of that. But, nevermind.

I agree with Shep here on the whole US political circus interest. UK elections - in bed by 10. US elections I was up all night. Basically to find out if the world is screwed for the next 4 years. And we were.

2:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think in the day of Bush, Nixon doesnt look so bad anymore. he will get an international pardon in the history books I imagine. And an intelelct as President, now there WERE havin a laugh!

8:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frost Nixon is fantastic, the acting is sublime and the Flares and collars are a work of beauty.

12:56 am  
Blogger hungech said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:53 am  

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