Though set in 1977 and concerning a dereliction of duty that happened more than 45 years ago, Peter Morgan’s gladiatorial depiction of David Frost’s TV encounter with Richard Nixon couldn’t feel more vital or timely.
Kate Hewitt’s production – the regional premiere of Morgan’s 2006 play – takes the motif of the power of the TV close-up, as well as the intrusive nature of cameras and microphones, and runs with it.
As in Michael Grandage’s original Donmar Warehouse staging, a large screen dwarfs the action. But here, taking full advantage of the Crucible’s semi in-the-round space, video designer Andrzej Goulding and Ben Stones’ creative team up the ante by making the screen a giant three-sided monster. Bursts of radio static and flashbulbs punctuate the short, seamlessly orchestrated scenes with George Dennis’ sound coordinating perfectly with filmed insets and live footage. The cast hits its cues with split-second accuracy and the whole production swings with a metronomic precision.
Jonathan Hyde is slighter and less physically imposing as you’d expect Nixon to be. But he nails the voice and mannerisms, ably conveying the insecurity beneath the bluster and totally convincing as a man who talks a good talk but ultimately can’t wait to be put out of his misery.
Daniel Rigby’s Frost is less vividly realised. Whereas Micheal Sheen inhabited the role completely, Rigby wears his characterisation more lightly, giving a subtler reading of the uncertainty powering the consummate media showman. You root for him less, making Nixon’s climactic confession feel more like a Pyrrhic victory rather than the long-awaited killer blow.