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If only there were DVDs of David Frost’s original 1977 interviews with Richard Nixon. At the Gielgud Theatre they’d be selling like hot cakes – especially now when the most telling clip of Frost’s recent interview with Tony Blair is being replayed every hour. Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon is by no means a great play, but it is an extremely exciting one.
Catching a moment in history when TV and politics intersected to extraordinary effect, it makes you want to check how those interviews between the interviewing gadfly and the canny old lion really looked. Though the play has its flaws, it is a must-see: often comic, full of suspense and juicily interesting.
Surely it’s also a must-transfer-to-Broadway? One of its two leading actors, Frank Langella (Richard Nixon), is already a long-term Broadway star. To watch him act beside Britain’s own Michael Sheen (here playing David Frost, now an international film star thanks to his brilliant Tony Blair in The Queen) is a major theatrical event.
Since this playwright (this is his first stage play) is also the scriptwriter of The Queen, as well as the recent TV dramas The Deal and Longford, his credit just now is high as high.
Frost/Nixon has been greeted as the first play about television, which is only fair if you disregard such shows as The Play What I Wrote and Jerry Springer: The Opera.
And it has been wrongly described as a docudrama. I would call it a history play, were it not that David Frost, while admiring the play and Sheen’s performance of him, has now discussed a number of its deliberate inaccuracies.
But too much of it is narrated to us by the American political historian Jim Reston and the Nixon aide Jack Brennan: their roles are virtually as large as the two stars’, but dramatically much clunkier.
Even so, Frost/Nixon is obviously a sensation. And it transfers well to the Gielgud. It’s a luxury to watch Sheen in the telephone conversation with Nixon when Frost visibly starts to grow up and finally appreciate the nature of his opponent.
Langella, though too suave (especially in his relaxed hand gestures) to convince visually as Nixon, combines gravitas and tragic darkness to glorious effect.
Frost has said that he and Blair, once their recent interview was over, agreed they should both have joint custody of Michael Sheen; and it goes without saying that, when Morgan writes Frost/Blair, Sheen must play both roles.
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