Politics and Theatre – A Blurring of Boundaries

Politics is theatrical, theatre is political says ADAM TYNAN, get used to it

adam tynan ADC frost/nixon jfk politics Theatre

This term I’m giving assistant producing a go – or at least that is what it will say on my CV. In reality I’m trying to get seats filled at next week’s run of Frost/Nixon at the ADC. This will be an article about the promotion of a play that promotes a play; a sort of journalistic, thesp inception.

I’ll quickly pre-empt the barrage of snarky comments that Sensitive Scholars will inevitably leave below by saying that I am less than qualified in the sphere of politics. I’m not ashamed that the Mad Men episode “Nixon vs. Kennedy” (Season 1, Episode 12, if you were wondering) will act as my entire bibliography. I know this doesn’t invalidate the criticism, but hopefully it will take some of the joy out of it.

And thus begins my exploration of political theory. Nixon lost the 1960 election because he looked like this…


Oh wait, that’s Frost/Nixon’s very own Robbie Aird. The real deal looked like this…

John F Kennedy, on the other hand, was an entirely different prospect.

Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 11.52.29

Fine. That’s actor Rob Lowe playing JFK, but you get the idea, and I’m sure you can see where this is going. He was a veritable rock star of politics; all chiselled jawlines, yachts and playboy lifestyle, with a couple of extra-marital affairs with movie stars thrown in for good measure. Nixon’s public image, however, didn’t extend far beyond ‘unshaven jowls’, if his Wikipedia article is to be believed (add that to the bibliography).

It strikes me as ironic that so often the complaint about modern politics is that it has become ‘too theatrical’, whilst the symmetrical complaint about modern theatre is that it has become ‘too political’. Political writers bemoan the fact that sections of the British public might rally behind an overly eloquent, bee-hived lothario, taken in by persona instead of policies. However, in the world of theatre, commentators are up in arms about, in the words of Mike Bradwell, the ‘predominance of Oxbridge tossers’ in the upper echelons of thesp society.

Politics is theatrical, theatre is political. And the only way we can deal with this is by getting used to it.

One might hope that good politicians rise to the top of their position on the basis of sound policy, and that leading actors win their roles on talent alone. The reality however, is that for the time being politicians need to develop their theatrical skills if they want to work in politics and actors need to become more politically savvy if they want to make it in the theatre.

It may not be ideal, but at least in a plutocracy there is always someone else to blame. Lost out in the race for Union presidency? Maybe they voted for the shiniest hair or the whitest teeth. Didn’t get cast in the main show? Maybe it’s because you didn’t put in the hours at the ADC bar. This might not be anything close to true, but there’s some solace in the thought that it might be, or by presenting oneself as a victim of society’s shallowness.

That’s enough political theory for one day, but before I go, do make sure you come along and see Frost/Nixon. A friend got me the job and I’d hate to let them down.