Eight years after Peter Morgan's play Frost Nixon opened in London, next week Irish theatregoers will have their first chance to see one of the great dramatic pieces of the last decade when Cairde Mol brings the play to the Town Hall.
The play concerns itself with the epic 1977 confrontation between British talk-show host David Frost, who has become a lowbrow laughing-stock, and Richard Milhous Nixon, who has just resigned as President of the United States in total disgrace over Vietnam and Watergate.
Determined to resurrect his career, Frost risks everything on a series of in-depth interviews in order to extract an apology from Nixon. The cagey Nixon, however, is equally bent on redeeming himself in his nation's eyes.
In the television age, image is king, and both men are desperate to out-talk and upstage each other as the cameras roll. The result is the interview that sealed a President's legacy. It was the first time since his resignation that Nixon had agreed to answer questions on the record. Frost only got the interview with Nixon because he raised the money personally. Deceptively easy-going at first, Frost eventually worked an apology to the American public out of Nixon for his role in the scandal.
Frost packaged and sold the interviews to nearly every country in the world, and the interviews achieved the largest audience for a news interview in the history of television.
Cairde Mol is led by director Ollie Turner (Galway Bay FM ). After the success of bringing Roddy Doyle's War to the Town Hall last year, Turner set about selecting and casting a play for 2014 and while Frost Nixon was a personal pet project for a while, it was only a chance call in May of this year that made it a reality.
“I came across the play first about two years ago,” Ollie tells me. “Not long after the Oscars I got hold of the DVD and it drew me in straight away. So I read up on it and got the script. I hadn’t started directing at that stage though I’d been involved with amateur drama in Renmore for about 10 years. I took a shot at directing with Roddy Doyle’s War and it went really well for us in the Town Hall, which opened the door for us there when I went back to them with the idea of doing Frost Nixon.
“When I first wanted to do the play I had no Nixon and he is the guy that ultimately carries this play,” Turner continues. “I felt it really needed an American actor and where would we get one here in the west of Ireland? Then out of the blue I got a text that I should go see Year of the Moving Statues by Gerry Conneely. Andrew Carney, who plays Jack Brennan in Frost Nixon, was in that cast and said ‘you’ve got to come and see this American actor, Gary Hetzler!’ So myself and Cairde Mol’s chairman went to see the play and as soon as Gary walked onstage we looked at each other and said ‘that’s Nixon!’ After that things started moving quickly, Gary was really keen to play the part, especially once he saw that we were serious and had a professional attitude about the production.”
With his Nixon in place, Turner lost no time in firming up the rest of his cast. Ronan Lardner from Headford plays David Frost, Compantas Lir’s Dermot Hession takes the role of Jim Reston, and the cast also features Tuam trio Kevin O'Dwyer ('Swifty' Lazar ), Andrew Carney (Jack Brennan ), and Sandra Mullen (Caroline Cushing ). Galway actors Ian Patterson (Bob Zelnick ) and Padraig McDonagh (John Birt ) also came on board and rehearsals began in early June for this landmark production.
As the above roll-call makes clear, the play is about more than just David Frost and Richard Nixon. “There is a team around Nixon and also around Frost, almost like it was a boxing match and they each have their corner-men,” Turner explains. “The respective teams are both very important within the play. They also add an element of narration to the play as it goes along and they update the audience about how both camps are feeling as the interviews are progressing. On Nixon’s side the two main guys are Jack Brennan who was a military person and Nixon’s right-hand man, he believes in Nixon 100 per cent. Also on Nixon’s team is his publicist Swifty Lazar whose role was to keep him in his lavish lifestyle, he ultimately brokered the deal for the interview with Frost, partly because he got the most money from Frost but he also believed Frost would do the softest interview. On the opposing side, Frost’s main man, who he personally drafted in, was Jim Reston, who was a passionate anti-Nixon activist.”
A central theme of the play is the power of television, so the technical expertise of Liam Feeney is equally essential to the production as a giant screen is used to project the close-up images of Frost and Nixon in gladiatorial combat during the interviews.
Frost Nixon runs at the Town Hall from Wednesday August 27 to Friday August 29 at 8pm nightly. Tickets are €18/€15 and are available from www.tht.ie