James Graham is definitely the playwright flavour of the month. To the two hits he has written playing in the West End This House and Ink he can add Quiz which is transferring there from Chichester in 2018. I saw it last night and found it an unsatisfying theatre experience. The play is based on Major Charles Ingram’s (Gavin Spookes) participation in Millionaire and winning a million by allegedly cheating.
The problem I had is that I do not enjoy and almost never watch tv quiz programmes. They are popular with broadcasters as they are cheap fodder with any prize money being less than the appearance costs. In Quiz the programme made a fortune from the premium tv rates. I do not consider it a real test of intelligence or general knowledge as the successful contestant has to know more about Eastenders than Einstein.
There is also also rather nasty voyeuristic pleasure in witnessing a contestant miss out on a huge prize and the way the presenter plays with him/her like a spider in the web. So last night I felt I was in the audience of Millionaire, not at a cutting edge drama. Added to this the structure was jerky. The drama fast-forwarded to the Court scene and back to the programme with a nod to the history of quizzes. Most of the cast had to play 5 roles except Charles and his wife Diana (Stephanie Street).
The production was slick and interactive. A pub quiz compère read out questions which the audience had answer sheets to complete and we were given a handset on which to vote on his guilt. Interestingly the count of 80:20% of guilt in the first half changed to 48:52% after a robust defence case presented by Sarah Woodward as Sonia Woodley QC who successfully cast doubt on the coughing method of communicating answers. She argued that Ingram might be eccentric but he could and was answering the questions honestly. Also the video produced by the programmers was so biased in its selection of material as to be unreliable. Of course most of us knew the verdict. To the extent the play had a serous element it was the dangerous overlap of interests when the trial becomes a show, the police brief the press, the celebrity cult rules … and a theatre audience becomes both a tv audience and jury.
Of the cast Gavin Spokes was excellent as the bovine Ingram less so Stephanie Street as the wife obsessed with the programme. Sarah Woodward was a spirited Portia and much of the cast showed their versatility in many roles.
Graham has shown his craft by dramatising events well occurring before he was born. My neighbour who enjoyed This House and just seen Ink found this production far less convincing. The lady behind commented how accurate the presentation of Millionaire was especially Keir Charles as Chris Tarrant. However that rather confirmed to me that it was so representative that if I was watching it on the telly I would have switched off well before its two and half hours duration.