In light of primaries and impending elections in both of my countries—South Korea and the US—I walked into Frost/Nixon with an expectation. Of course, I did not expect a play to provide me with a deep understanding of politics or help me decide on the right candidate, but I did hope to gain a peek into how political persona is developed and maintained, and how it is presented through media. And this expectation was met, the moment the TV screen onstage started playing and the audience was presented with Nixon, getting ready for the broadcast of his resignation.
Frost/Nixon, here masterfully directed by Gregory Roach and Alex Marks, is a play that follows a success-hungry British television host and post-Watergate Nixon through a series of controversial interviews. Although the former’s career is ascending and the latter’s is descending, both are competitive, driven men seeking the ‘limelight,’ as Nixon calls it.
The production skillfully reflected this with the use of starkly contrasting lighting—often the stage would be brightly lit on the actor’s side, and completely dark on the other, as both interviewer and interviewee struggled for the limelight. Gavin Fleming, who played the former president, was a truly unnerving adversary to Charlie Wade’s Frost. His performance as Nixon reconciled with subtle craft the man’s rather charming, presidential side and his monstrous fits of rage; it did not call for pity on Nixon, but it made the audience see the kind of man that was behind Watergate. Charlie Wade as Frost also showed such impressive flexibility—somehow both spirited and sickly, he played well the television host treading a thin line between charming confidence and unnerved insecurity.
Some things could be improved: the TV screen, which was placed near the front row of the audience, was a major prop yet difficult to see from the rows behind. Moments with the TV playing and a character standing silently onstage felt slightly long and awkward, and some common opening-night mishaps with props and lines could be detected. The video played at the end of the show, which merged clips of Trump with those of Nixon, was rousing and well-intended but felt incongruous and clumsy—the Nixon that I had just seen in the production was too developed and enthralling compared to the shallow, social-media-based persona of Trump.
Overall, however, with strong performances and a focused, intense production, Frost/Nixon gave gripping life to the story behind the famous Nixon interviews. Led by tension and determined pace yet not without humor and charm, the production gave clever insight into the behind-the-scenes of political figures and is recommended to anyone puzzled by politics— though I can’t imagine how one could not be.