Preview: Frost/Nixon

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Ksenia, the producer of Frost/Nixon, tells us that this is going to be an ‘immersive experience’. Of course, she cannot give anything out; we just have to go with it. So I and my fellow reviewer from that other newspaper walk together through the theatre door.

So immersive is the experience, in fact, that I fail to realise it has begun. At the door, we are surrounded by a group of actors eager to chat. ‘Hello, I’m David’, says a guy in a crisp chequered shirt. ‘How has your day been so far?’ He gives me a firm handshake. He smiles congenially and listens intently. David is so smooth that and I don’t have a spare beat in which to question what’s going on. Only after a few minutes of small talk do I remember that I am the journalist here. ‘Are you Mr. Frost?’ I ask, sheepishly. ‘Yes, David Frost’, he confirms, smiling, graciously smoothing over my faux pas. All this while, I’ve been talking to a celebrity. So, we are here to meet the team. A round of handshakes with Frost’s entourage follows. Everyone is smiling, polite.  Then we move to the other end of the room and do our introductions with Nixon’s team. The actors’ improvisation skills are stunning. Conversations flow, and a sense of expectation builds up: we are getting ready to take part in a historic event. ‘Mr. President, it’s my honour’, I tell Nixon (what else do I say?). It’s all too real. More introductions, handshakes. Finally we are invited to sit down. A lot of movement ensues, the camera crew are running around the stage, counting out the seconds until Frost and Nixon go live.

Frost/Nixon is going to be brilliant, and its strength is the meticulous character studies. Everyone has developed their role so well that, as they demonstrated, they can go without a script. Some of the supporting actors are inevitably defined by only a few characteristics – Jonathan Purkiss’ Jim Reston is the embittered idealist who hoped to subvert the system; Hannah Bristow’s Evonne is a tomboyish camera operator, stern and driven. Most of the supporting roles remain one-dimensional, but they build a good background against which the Frost/Nixon saga can play out.

It is a treat to witness Frost and Nixon’s confrontation. Both Ed Barr-Sim as Frost and Aleks Cvetkovic as Nixon show versatility and quick wit. Cvetkovic’s portrayal of Nixon’s emotional manipulation is amazing. The story of how an anti-war protester spat in his face shows a good approximation of remorse, while at the same time he makes it clear that it’s all for show, deep down he doesn’t care. Cvetkovic’s Southern twang, which he learned for this role, is flawless. Barr-Sim powerfully conveys Frost’s oscillating between self-assurance and a begrudging admiration for Nixon that takes over him against his will. I wished the preview would continue, and that we would get to see Nixon break down.

Instead, we are back to immersive mode, and we get to ask Frost and Nixon questions. I ask Frost about his strategy in the coming interviews, and he says that, of course, he wants to uncover more about Watergate. Not any hard facts though, but rather more on ‘Nixon the man’. ‘I think the emotion would make for better TV’, Frost says. Damn right it will. Nixon explains that he will speak about his ‘childhood, family, and all that’. There is going to be scandal and soul-searching. Get your tickets ASAP, this is a spectacle not to be missed. 

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