BWW Review: QUIZ, Noel Coward Theatre

BWW Review: QUIZ, Noel Coward TheatreBy any standard, playwright James Graham is having quite a week. Hot on the heels of Labour of Love winning Best New Comedy and Bertie Carvel winning for Best Supporting Actor for Ink at last weekend's Olivier Awards, Tuesday saw the West End opening of Quiz, transferring into town from Chichester.

BWW Review: QUIZ, Noel Coward TheatreQuiz recounts the tale of Major Charles Ingram, who in 2001 won the top prize of £1 million on the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? but was found guilty of cheating, along with his wife Diana and another accomplice Tecwen Whittock, through the use of strategic coughing to direct him to the correct answers.

The structure of Quiz is not as simple as a reconstruction of the show, although that forms the core of the action. Essentially the play is a game of two halves: Act One presents the case for the prosecution of Ingram's trial, and Act Two the case for the defence.

We also get snippets of the action surrounding the show itself, with scenes between Ingram (Gavin Spokes), his wife Diana (Stephanie Street) and her brother Adrian (Henry Pettigrew) and others, showing how WWTBAM? was commissioned and its behind-the-scenes production, revealing the growing suspicions of the production team and crew.

Also thrown in are a couple of bursts of a TV audience warm-up guy (cringingly well performed by Keir Charles), short revivals of several old-school TV game shows and an actual mini pub version for the theatre audience to indulge any cravings induced by the play.

This all makes for a slightly scattergun feel to the show, although it remains entertaining.

The central performances by Gavin Spokes and Keir Charles (who also doubles up as Chris Tarrant and several other well-known game show hosts) are excellent. Charles's portrayal of Tarrant has his mannerisms down to a tee, exaggerated just enough to tread the fine line between comedy and caricature.

Spokes, meanwhile, imbues Ingram with a mix of self-doubt and intelligence that makes him likeable enough for you to question, during the case for the prosecution, whether he is in fact guilty of cheating. Strong support comes in particular from Stephanie Street as Diana.

Having gone back and watched a couple of YouTube clips of the Major's million-pound-winning performance, it's clear that all three central performers have meticulously studied their characters to make them true to life.

The set (design by Robert Jones, lighting by Tim Lutkin) is, as you might expect, strongly reminiscent of a TV game show. It even includes two banks of onstage audience seating and smaller screens around the auditorium to give that TV studio feel. All audience members also get to play with a voting keypad a few times - Ask the Audience, and all that.

Quiz doesn't reach the heights of James Graham's other plays, but it does provoke some reflection on the nature of exploitative TV game shows. If it's OK for TV producers to frame questions to select certain types of contestants and then manipulate them into high-stress situations, why isn't it OK for nerdy fans to work out how to swing the odds in their favour (and in cleverer ways than just coughing)?

I guess, as the finale of Quiz demonstrates, your point of view depends on whose truth you find most convincing, and how open to manipulation you are.

Quiz at the Noel Coward Theatre until 16 June

Photo credit: Johan Persson

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From This Author Emma Watkins

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