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Discussion on Front Row from BBC Radio 4
The problems of dramatising the lives of famous people
 real 28k

Friday, 27 July, 2001, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Nixon's final hours
Keith Jochim (Nixon) and Tim Donoghue (Kissinger), photo by Sandy Underwood
Tension mounts as Nixon tries to squirm his way out
By BBC News Online's Norman Miller

Writers who have spun tales around what might have gone down when great men met include Tom Stoppard (Travesties) and Michael Frayn (Copenhagen).

So Russell Lees is in good company with his short, sharp reflection on what Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger may have discussed on August 7, 1974, the night before Nixon resigned as US President.

It is historical fact that the two men did meet for several hours that night but I doubt their conversation matched the crazed brilliance Lees serves up.

Ensnared by the investigation into the Watergate cover-up, Richard Milhouse Nixon is as desperate to find some way out as any cornered beast.

Keith Jochim plays President Nixon, picture by Tim Sawers
Keith Jochim convinces as a panic-stricken Nixon
Keith Jochim's sweating, jowly Nixon reels around the sort of manic options open to the most powerful man on earth, from nukes to coups.

However, Tim Donoghue's Kissinger is not playing ball with the president's pitches, his outward containment a mask for his own desperation to salvage power from the wreckage of Nixon's fall.

In an era when MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) was the acronym the world over, Lees toys with the madness under the political gloss to brilliant effect.

Both Nixon and Kissinger are like two kids caught doing something naughty, cajoling and squabbling as they try to both get off the hook, either together or at the expense of the other.

So Tricky Dicky taunts Kissinger with the spectre of Ford giving his job to Al Haig should Nixon fail to survive, while Kissinger dangles the judgement of history in front of a master desperate to be remembered as a great statesman.

Surreal comic touches run through the 90 minutes, such as the duo's repeated hammy impersonations of the likes of Mao and Brezhnev whenever the copious intake of booze sparks more misty-eyed reminiscences.

Donoghue as Kissinger talks to a despondent Jochim as Nixon, picture by Sandy Underwood
Superb performances from Jochim and Donoghue
Though the laughs come thick and fast throughout, Lees is wise enough to add some darkness to the comedy in a way someone like Beckett - the master of the two-hander black comedy - would have admired.

Jochim's Nixon weeps as he admits that perhaps there is more than saving one's skin, as he forces Kissinger to reel off the death toll from his past actions from South East Asia through Chile to the deaths of US anti-war protesters.

While an acquaintance with the Vietnam War era definitely adds to the enjoyment, Lee's lively but ascerbic script and superb performances by both Jochim and Donoghue make this a thought-provoking, sparkling outing.

And at just 90 minutes long, it leaves plenty of time for after-show debate.

Nixon's Nixon is playing at the Comedy Theatre, London

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