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Stephanie Street (Diana Ingram), Gavin Spokes (Charles Ingram). image by Johan Persson

Quiz - a new play by playwright of the moment James Graham

14 April 2018 Suzanne Frost

Just entering the auditorium, it already looks like fun! The set design for Quiz is all about technology: countless screens peppered around the proscenium flicker in saturated multicolour, there are cameras on stage and crew members running around. With limited seating on stage there is no border between stage and auditorium, everything is accessible and ready to be explored. The lights are up and don’t really go down for most of the show. Best of all, every single seat is equipped with a little device for interactive voting and don’t we all love holding things with buttons to press.

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

This is a very touchy, playful, interactive show. Before it even starts, we get a warm up host cracking a few jokes and soon he has everyone high-fiving their seat neighbour and forming teams with the people in your row. Talking, debating and interacting is encouraged. This is not theatre, it is a very clever blend of storytelling, television and a collective game. The production doesn’t break the 4th wall so much as smashes all walls on all sides between us and them, actors and audience.
 
Quiz tells the story of Major Charles Ingram, who went on the very popular TV show Who wants to be a Millionaire? In 2001, was accused of an elaborate cheating scam and put on a very public trial followed feverishly by the media. James Graham, who writes political theatre without ever force-feeding his own political stance, turns the audience into the Jury. This is a court case and it’s entertainment, it’s a multiple choice question, guilty or not guilty and there’s a 50:50 chance you get the right answer – if there is such a thing as right and wrong.

 Stephanie Street (Diana Ingram), Gavin Spokes (Charles Ingram), Henry Pettigrew (Adrian Pollock). Photo: Johan Persson

In a regular bog standard pub quiz, a question usually has a definite right answer, based on facts. This is fair and incontestable. When it comes to human life, things are not that easy. Graham beautifully reproduces the aesthetic of television on stage, it is flashy and shiny, all neon lights and popular jingles. But we also see how the visuals are made, how drama is construed by manipulating emotional reactions, how what we get to see is edited, how your point of view, the specific angle is already pre-decided. All those magic tools that television has to shape reality: pause, replay, green screens, postproduction. Screens have invaded every aspect of our lives and they frame all our experiences, from news reporting to Instagram. Reality, as Graham notes, should be put into quotation marks, as facts and fiction are mixed, real life cross-contaminated with entertainment. This is what living in a post-truth world looks like.
 
The show, like good courtroom drama, sets up the case against Charles Ingram in the first act and gives the defence the second. Suddenly all the facts and the evidence we’ve completely accepted as truth are turned upside down, and while you are aware exactly how you are being manipulated, opinions start to shift. How will the vote fall this time?

 The company of Quiz. Photo: Johan Persson

While exploring some really interesting themes of media and manipulation, the justice system, democracy and mob dynamics, Quiz is first and foremost cheeky goofy good fun, mocking popular culture in many amusing and recognisable little cameos from an enthusiastic and well-rehearsed cast. Keir Charles’ performance as the show master Chris Tarrant is hilarious, so is Greg Haiste in all his different characters and Sarah Woodward adds critical reflection to the second act as defence lawyer Sonia Woodley (Read our interview with Sarah talking about her role here.). The hapless Charles Ingram, played by Gavin Spokes, seems to be pushed around by each and everyone from his wife to the media into the roles cast for him – cheat, victim, entertainer, scapegoat – and ends up losing the only thing he actually cared about in a game he didn’t sign up for: his army job. But then we like watching people fall from grace. It makes for good entertainment. And Quiz, for all its critical undertones, is hugely entertaining.

Quiz is at the Noel Coward Theatre until 16 June.
 
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