Sunday, December 10, 2006

Nick's Frost

Oh god, what did I forecast yesterday? "Nick: Islington, my part in its downfall." Why, oh why, didn't I just throw in the West End and David Cameron? I'd have been right. (There still are theatres in Islington, aren't there? Nick never seems to go to those.)

I read theatre reviews when I buy papers, but I don't remember them; especially those of productions I'm very unlikely to catch. Nick:

The West End success of Frost/Nixon is a hopeful sign that British theatre can at last escape from agitprop. Peter Morgan's play is a subtle examination of the first fight between television and politics, which leaves the audience feeling ambiguous when David Frost triumphs by forcing a stonewalling Richard Nixon to acknowledge his guilt for Watergate.

Frost/Nixon was reviewed in the Observer on Sunday August 27, 2006. 'West End success' may mean 'won an award' which would be more topical.

But Nick's theatre review was just an introduction for his observation that David Cameron was "created by the entertainment industry". (Other critics of the Boy David have suggested that he was created by Eton and also by PR, which makes for quite a lot of creation in my view.) If Nick was behind the times in which plays he sees, he was a long way back in his political analysis. Frank Luntz has been gone over by Political Betting, and in the comments after Cameron won. I know Nick has a semi-tabloid column these days, and counterfactuals and nuance aren't really his thing, but his research could at least have included the redoubtable Anthony Wells:

In ICM's study Ken Clarke was seen as genial, approachable, charismatic, tough and a serious political figure, but on the downside he was seen as arrogant and not particularly trustworthy. His arrogance was his weakness in Luntz's study too - people were turned off by Clarke's tendency to talk about himself and he came out surprisingly poorly.
ICM found that David Davis was seen as attractive, trustworthy, smart, competent, but also rather grey and uncharismatic. Even Davis's own campaign team accept that he is a comparatively weak public speaker, but these studies suggest there is a deeper problem with a lack of charisma.
David Cameron on the other hand shone in the qualitative polling - people found him presentable, trustworthy, confident and seemed to have a generally positive perception of him. Frank Luntz's Newsnight report said that reactions to David Cameron were the most positive he had ever seen such a test. Informing his group of Cameron's priviledged background did very little to lessen their ardour. On the downside ICM's test also found people thought that Cameron looked bland and shallow - for people who deride (or indeed praise) Cameron as the Conservative Tony Blair, the focus group evidence does seem to the support it.

As far as commentary goes, that is pretty much dead on. Cameron is bland and shallow (which is what Nick complains of in different words) as well as charismatic, but his rivals had insurmountable problems of their own.

As a former Labour Party member and as someone who regards the Observer as still a 'left-wing' newspaper, Nick's conclusion grates by omission.

Commentators can't say anything sensible about the next election until they see how Gordon Brown does as Prime Minister

Which misses the point that at least the Conservatives *elected* their leader, even if they were beguiled by showbiz. But isn't that the way of Democracy? Wasn't FDR's image manipulation (to hide his polio) showbiz too? At least the Tories got a vote. Hmph! And again, Hmmph!

PS Update 10:30. Frost/Nixon won the Editor's Award at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards. And here are the awards and nominees for Evening Standard Theatre Award Winners for 2001 to 2005. Now if Peter Morgan's award "is a hopeful sign that British theatre can at last escape from agitprop" then we should expect that the previous years it was in thrall to "agitprop." I dunno. You tell me.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"feeling ambiguous" - does he mean "feeling ambivalent"?

12/10/2006 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger Backword Dave said...

Yes, I think he must do. I missed that.

12/10/2006 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"There still are theatres in Islington, aren't there? Nick never seems to go to those"

There's the Almeida for starters, and I'm sure there are a couple of pub fringe theatres (Old Red Lion?) as well.

PS: Nick and 'agitprop' - I ask you, does he really think it's 1976 or did he go and see too much Howard Brenton when he was young?

12/11/2006 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Backword Dave said...

Yeah, if memory serves: the Almeida (v good when I've been there); Red Lion on Upper St; Hen and Chickens on Highbury Corner; there's Sadler's Wells too. But I haven't been to those for a long time, so I thought best not to make a fool of myself by naming theatres which aren't there any more.

Hmm. Is 'Les Mis' agitprop? The book was pretty radical, IIRC. Actually, the last time I was in London was two years ago, when I saw 'Sweeney Todd' (Sondheim from Brenton) in Whitehall. Very good it was too.

12/11/2006 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was shooting my mouth off just the other day about some theatres when my friend corrected me to point out they didn't exist any more, ha!

12/14/2006 06:28:00 AM  

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