There was something about the television game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Even its irritating aspects, like going to a commercial break to prolong the intrigue, would be tolerated. I don’t think the format would work nearly as well now: the audience at home would just go to an internet search engine, on a smartphone, say, or a tablet device, and look up the answer, thus satisfying their curiosity way before the contestant in the ‘hot seat’ had confirmed their ‘final answer’. The ‘phone a friend’ facility would still provide limited opportunity to use the web to obtain the correct answer, as the shows were recorded prior to transmission, instead of being broadcast live.
Here, in Quiz, one of the participants in that television game show, Charles Ingram (Gavin Spokes), a major in the British Army, is put on trial. Sonia Woodley QC (Sarah Woodward) puts in a robust defence case for Ingram, his wife Diana (Stephanie Street) and another contestant, Tecwen Whittock (Mark Meadows), all charged with ‘procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception’, or in the words of this play, “attempting to defraud the show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’”.
Electronic keypads are provided for members of the play’s audience, and they do, apparently, work, and like the game show, the results are displayed for all to see. An audience poll taken after the defence has had an opportunity to call its witnesses and cross-examine (and so on) reveals a significant number were swayed by their lines of argument.
Chris Tarrant, for the record, is having none of it: in an opinion piece for a national newspaper, published shortly before this production’s press performances, he wishes theatregoers well, saying, “I hope you have a marvellous time”. But Ingram is, in his view “as guilty as sin”. Well, maybe. I make no apology for fence-sitting on this occasion, at least in this regard – please do, if the opportunity arises, see the play and come to your own conclusion. As far as the production is concerned, Tarrant has seen the show, and his own verdict is that “Keir Charles, the actor playing me as the host of the quiz show […] is outstanding”.
It is quite impossible for me to disagree. The facial expressions and mannerisms, not only of Tarrant, but also of the likes of Des O’Connor, Jim Bowen and Leslie Crowther are captured flawlessly. What connects the likes of the late host of The Price is Right with the ‘coughing major’? Well, nothing directly. There’s a brief history of the game show format; anyone without any prior knowledge of the narrative is brought fully up to speed, while providing a sense of nostalgia for those who remember the game shows of yesteryear. With enough background detail about the defendants’ lives provided, I am satisfied that there is no need to read up on the Ingram case before seeing the show: and that’s just as it should be.
Judge Rivlin (Jay Villiers) treats the audience as the jury (yes, there are only supposed to be 12 people on a jury, but please suspend disbelief at the door and go with it). The audience involvement makes the play more engaging – up to a point. A mercifully brief pub quiz, bringing together Britain’s alleged “two greatest loves, drinking and being right”, still, ultimately, came across as padding, even if it was fun and provided an unusual level of camaraderie between audience members than would ordinarily be expected in a West End show.
The lighting (Tim Lutkin) is good, almost too good, occasionally overkill as it momentarily dazzles, as if screaming, “This is a television studio! What did you expect?” Just as well, then, that the script repeatedly reminds the audience that this is, indeed, a theatre. The set goes from Elstree Studios to Southwark Crown Court and back again with impressive swiftness, helped by the use of a stage revolve. An absorbing production, this is compulsive viewing.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Stephanie Street plays Diana Ingram. Her theatre credits include Behind the Beautiful Forevers, King James Bible: Gospel According to John, Nightwatchmen (National Theatre), Constellations (Singapore Repertory Theatre), Shades (Royal Court Theatre), The Big Fellah, Mixed Up North (Out of Joint) and Sisters which she also wrote (Sheffield Theatres). For television, her work includes Hank Zipzer, Silk, DCI Banks, Hens and Primeval; and for film, Attack the Block.
William Village, Playful Productions and Chichester Festival Theatre present the Chichester Festival Theatre production of
By James Graham
Director: Daniel Evans; Designer: Robert Jones; Lighting Designer: Tim Lutkin
Music and Sound: Ben and Max Ringham; Video Designer: Tim Reid
Movement Director: Naomi Said; Casting Director: Charlotte Sutton CDG
Noel Coward Theatre
31st March 2018 – 16th June 2018