Which TV Quiz Show made a British Army Major famous, or, more correctly, infamous? Which prolific young British, often political, playwright continually comes up with extremely successful plays? The answer to both these questions lies in Quiz, now showing at The Noel Coward Theatre, following its successful run at Chichester.
Quiz by James Graham tells the story of Charles Ingram’s £1,000,000 win on ITV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Or to be more specific whether or not he cheated in order to win this top prize. So cleverly has Robert Jones staged the play that one is immediately transported into a TV recording studio immediately on entering the auditorium. This is theatre at its most unique, ensuring that we become immediately involved, initially as a studio audience getting entertained by the warm up guy and then as jury, deciding on whether the accused are innocent or guilty.
The case against Ingram, his wife Diana and their alleged accomplice, Tecwen Whittock centred on whether or not he was drawn to the correct answers by the tactical coughing of the latter. As the prosecution states in the first act, how is it that the contestant loses two of his “lives” in earlier rounds but still goes on to hit the jackpot when recording resumes? After all his rather bumbling manner when faced with the more difficult questions doesn’t suggest a man poised to garner the main prize. It looks more and more as if the Major is guilty as charged, verified by the fact that the audience by and large agree, with fewer pressing the innocent button on their keypads at the end of Act One.
This result undergoes a bit of a turn around after Ingram’s defence barrister passionately states her case. Drawing forensic attention to the editing carried out on the incriminating tape and asking pertinent questions as to the coughing itself, doubts appear. Could it be that Ingram’s bumbling manner was a ploy to make him seem more interesting in front of the cameras? On Press Night the majority of us obviously thought yes, as at the end of the play the innocent button got the full treatment.
The entire cast are spot on and director Daniel Evans has the rather manic atmosphere of a TV studio down to a tee. The potted history of TV game shows, to highlight the fact that we’re a nation of quiz obsessives, ensures a wonderful trip down memory lane. And the excellent Keir Charles not only takes on the job of warm up guy, but assumes the identity of each game show host to great comic effect. His hilarious parody of Chris Tarrant is belly achingly funny.
The entire cast revel in their roles, especially Gavin Spokes as Ingram, who perfectly portrays an army man, rather unwittingly becoming caught up in “show business” but once there, warming to the task. Stephanie Street as his wife, Diana is excellent and Sarah Woodward makes a totally believable QC.
James Graham’s exploration of popular culture and how public opinion can be manipulated when presented with selective facts, is light hearted and at times extremely funny. Unfortunately, the real outcome for Ingram was anything but light hearted in that he spent 18 months in prison and, along with his wife was declared bankrupt in 2004. Were all three really innocent? I guess we will never know.
All I do know is that I’m thrilled the producers have seen fit to transfer this hugely entertaining play to the West End, ensuring the likes of me can get to see it.