Gavin Spokes and Keir Charles. Picture credit: Johan Persson
By Fiona Callingham
A MURDERED cat, a coughing Welshman and a menagerie of game show host impressions is just a taste of the bizarre and highly apt narrative of Quiz.
The year is 2003 and Charles and Diana Ingram are about to discover their sentences for supposedly conning £1 million from one of the most popular television shows at the time: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
This story could easily have been a straight-forward biographical dramatisation. Charles and Diana (the controversial nature of their names is, at one point, addressed) plan their way to the jackpot and the audience witness their downfall. Simple.
However, Quiz is so much more than that due to both the writing of James Graham and phenomenal stage design that perfectly utilises the space available.
Firstly, Graham was very keen to stress the notion that right and wrong are far too difficult to pin down, especially during court room scenes. This was aided by the structure of the play whereby in the first act the prosecution explains how the fraud was committed, and in the second the audience is provided an altered version of events to suggest the couple’s innocence.
The audience could also cast their own decisions using remote voting devices that revealed the percentage of those that believe them to be innocent compared to guilty. Needless to say after the second act the results had completely reversed.
The cosy setting of the Minerva Theatre added to the tense atmosphere of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? which is almost uncannily reproduced, including a rather playful yet superb performance of Chris Tarrant by Keir Charles.
Shifting scenarios including various game show studios, in which audience members were told to “come on down” and take part, domestic settings and the court room are all effortlessly realised using a multi-purpose stage.
Many of the actors also were not confined to one role showcasing their talents in a variety of roles from television producers, to journalists and real life people.
Credit must be given to Gavin Spokes and Stephanie Street who portrayed the Ingrams with unfaltering conviction spanning their obsession with the show, joy at winning and pain caused by the consequences. One fault of the play is that its tightness suffered here due to over-reliance on backstory, both into the couple and the history of broadcast. But that is only one concern.
Mirroring the Ingrams, the British public are depicted with an unhealthy preoccupation with quizzes initially explained as “an excuse to go to the pub.” This is aided by the wonderfully meta nature of this production. Several times the actors acknowledge that they are in a performance and the multiple usage of audience participation confirmed that there is something to be said for that.
Quiz also serves as a time capsule of Britain on the brink of the technology and internet-dependant nation it will become. It seems strange to think there was a time when people used books and asked others when solving a question rather than searching for it quickly online: a pub quiz host despaired “bloody Google!” at one point to much laughter.
That’s part of what makes Quiz so fascinating. Not only are Charles and Diana Ingram on trial for their actions but something is being asked about the audience too.
Quiz is on at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester until December 9. Book tickets at cft.org.uk