The first thing I will say about James Graham’s Quiz at the Noel Coward Theatre is that the stage looked a heck of a lot like the set of Network which has just had its final curtain call over at the National Theatre. And whilst I’m a big fan of James Graham (Ink was one of my favourite plays of 2017), Quiz left me, in all honesty, like I’d been cheated out of something.
Quiz charts the success of game shows on the British telly and the rise and fall of Charles and Diana (no not that Charles and Diana). Charles Ingram was in the contestant hot seat for Who Wants to be a Millionaire for 2 nights in 2001 when he went on to win the 1 million-pound jackpot. He was subsequently accused of cheating, thanks to a “coughing” theory.
Charles’ pub quiz-obsessed wife, Diana, was in the audience on those Who Wants to be a Millionaire fateful nights, and so was her quiz mate, Tecwen Whittock. He was charged with coughing at critical moments, thereby directing Charles to the correct answer. The Ingrams received an 18-month suspended prison sentence and Whittock, a 12-month sentence.
Quiz is a behind-the-scenes hypothesis of what happened. Did the major, his wife and her friend cough and con their way to 1 million pounds? It later transpired that there were 192 coughs that night from various members of the audience, and that Whittock suffered from respiratory problems, hence the regular coughing. And the show’s host, Chris Tarrant, who had not been aware of any suspicious coughing, was stunned at the accusation.
So, did the Ingrams and Whittock shatter the hitherto cheat proof game, or were they framed by a network that didn’t want to dish out the big jackpot? The audience decides, and chances are, the results in the first half of the play (where the prosecution leads) will be significantly different to the second half (where it’s over to the defence). By night’s end, our audience’s guilty verdict went from 80% down to 56%.
Armed with a Pub Quiz Answer Sheet and a voting pad attached to the seat in-front of me, I was expected to shake hands with the person to my left and high-five the person in front. In return for the correct answer from some members of the audience, there was free ice-cream on offer. We were instructed to applaud, laugh or “oooooh” depending on what was instructed on the overhead monitors. Sigh.
Keir Charles steals the show as Chris Tarrant, and the rest of the cast put in some fine performances. But it still felt like I had just spent the night in front of the telly, minus the takeaway. If you’re expecting one of James Graham’s political tour de forces, you might be disappointed. But if you like a pub quiz, some interactive theatre, and a good “did he, didn’t he,” then Quiz might just be your ticket.
Quiz the Play is on at the Noel Coward Theatre until 16 June.