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Sarah Woodward in Quiz. Photo: Johan Persson

An Interview with Sarah Woodward

3 April 2018 Suzanne Frost

Sarah Woodward is playing Barrister Sonia Woodley in Quiz, a re-imagining of the court case of Charles Ingram, 'the coughing Major', who caused a scandal in 2001 when he was found guilty of cheating on the popular TV show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Graham’s play investigates the great tradition of the British quiz show and takes a sharp look at the 21st century's dangerous new attitude to truth and lies while ultimately giving the audience the final verdict in the case. London Calling caught up with Sarah Woodward during rehearsals.

London Calling: You are playing Sonia Woodley, who was the defence lawyer of Major Charles Ingram. What kind of a person is she?
 
Sarah Woodward: She is cool, calm, calculated, she stands for truth and goodness in the world. She is based on the real character of Sonia Woodley but we don’t use the actual transcripts from the court proceedings so everything she says in the show is completely different. She stands for reality and truth in a world that’s full of manipulation, greed and lies.
 
LC: How do you prepare for a role when you are playing a real life person?
SW: It doesn’t actually make any difference at all. In this case, all we use is the name Sonia Woodley. Everything else is nothing to do with her as a real person. In fact, we all play quite a few characters and I think of all the parts that I play, Sonia is just a kind of mouthpiece in a way, right until the last scenes of the play when she comes into her own and tries to persuade the jury to find him innocent.

Gavin Spokes as Charles Ingram, Keir Charles as Chris Tarrant in QUIZ at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo Johan Persson
 

LC: James Graham is hailed as the new golden boy of theatre. He finds the human side in a story but also really likes a political play. What is the political message of Quiz?
SW: I guess the main message is the manipulation. Politicians have completely manipulated the general public and they use the media and often other areas like the police or the judiciary to serve their own ends. We are fed stories from politicians and from the government that are simply not true and that’s apparent in all of his plays, and just as much in Quiz. He uses a human story but there is so much else going on, with the politics of the time and the media at the time, which I guess are all his favourite subjects. He is a political nerd but he is also a great human story writer.
 
LC: There is another very famous show exploring the thin line between courtroom and showbiz and that is Chicago! Back in the West End and still as relevant as ever.
SW: And always popular. It’s again a human story and dealing with subjects we are very keen on. Television is pretty obsessed with court rooms, police stories, detective stories…
 
LC: …and quiz shows! Why is Britain so obsessed with quizzes?
SW: I think we are just secretly competitive. Rather than being outwardly competitive like in the world of sports, where we are pretty shit actually, when it comes to quizzes we can bury ourselves in our own homes and read up on facts and figures.
 
LC: Do you like a pub quiz?
SW: I do but only because I like the social event, I’m never good at them. It’s more about coming together.

A scene from QUIZ at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson
 
LC: There is a huge trend for interactive theatre, audiences really want to do and not just watch, they want to be involved. How has that changed your work as an actor?
SW: It’s just more exciting to be doing theatre because of the live nature of it. The more interaction you have with an audience the more it feels like a community. It’s always fun. Sometimes it can be quite nerve wracking, depending on whatever the interaction is and how it may affect your performance. But with this show, there is basically a vote at the beginning and the end of the show. The outcome is going to be A or B so we have two possible endings.
 
 
Quiz it playing at the Noël Coward Theatre until 16 June.
 
 
 
 
 
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