Review: QUIZ, Chichester Festival Theatre

Rory Bremner leads the cast of James Graham's play, back in Chichester, where it saw its premiere in 2017, and on tour

By: Sep. 29, 2023
Review: QUIZ, Chichester Festival Theatre

Review: QUIZ, Chichester Festival Theatre There’s so much that’s hard to believe in Quiz, James Graham’s play that reconstructs the story of the ‘Coughing Major’, Charles Ingram, who won and lost £1m, but most incredible of all is the fact that Who Wants To Be A Millionaire almost didn’t happen at all.  

In the late 90s, before Reality TV, before cameras zooming into taut faces as Wagnerian music plays, before revenue-generating phonelines to fund mega-prizes, quiz shows were niche. Blockbusters for the students, University Challenge for the graduates and God knows what on daytime, probably hosted by Danny Baker with Bob Mills as a contestant. WWTBAM changed all that. And Major Ingram changed WWTBAM.   

With such a prize just 15 right answers away, it was always going to attract chancers who had cut their teeth in pub quizzes for £50 or on the machines in the bar for £20 or so (I did that). The same faces started to appear in WWTBAM’s  Fastest Finger First shootouts to get into The Chair opposite Chris Tarrant (as they do now on the conveyor belt between University Challenge, Eggheads and Only Connect, but that’s just for nerd points not the folding stuff). It was only a matter of time before someone tried to game the system, indeed, a whole shadowy syndicate emerged on a global scale to do that. That’s the thing about conspiracies - sometimes they’re real, maybe…

We’re pitched into that theatrical standby, that theatre in all but name, a courtroom, in which three alleged conspirators, the Major, his wife, Diana, and a WWTBAM obsessive, Tecwen Whittock, are on trial for defrauding the show of £1m. The narrative tracks backwards and forwards in time, weaves facts and speculations into a narrative thread and leaves us to decide whodunnit (or, indeed, if there was any ‘dun’ at all). 

Rory Bremner, making a second foray into theatre 11 years on from his last, may be the star name on the playbill - and his Tarrant turn is as well observed as you would expect - but the real stars of the show are Robert Jones’s set and Ryan Day’s lighting. You feel like you’re there (the sweep of seating at Chichester Festival Theatre helps) a crucial element in understanding the case for the defence presented after the interval. It’s all so bright, so disorienting, so all-encompassing that homing in on the four choices for each answer is hard enough, never mind filtering the noises off.

Lewis Reeves gives us a timid, most-unmilitary of majors (a kindred spirit to Catch-22’s Major Major), very much the third choice behind his wife (£32k won) and her brother, Adrian (also £32k won), to go into The Chair. Charley Webb’s Diana is very much the keenest of the trio, a quiz fan and good at them, as her win attests. Jay Taylor portrays her brother as troubled, desperate, more like a compulsive gambler than a quizzer, though the border between those personality types is often porous.

Co-directors, Daniel Evans and Sean Linnen, mine the comedy in the script mainly through Mark Benton, in a succession of broad cameos in which he gets more than his fair share of laughs. Marc Antolin, like most of the cast delivering multiple roles, has a lot of fun on the mic asking the questions in the pub, a job I’ve done many, many times and, yes, it is like that. 

If the action sags a little in the second half - there’s perhaps a little too much repetition of events already played out by the prosecution, this time seen from the defence’s perspective - the show never stops entertaining and is certainly paced with more verve than its inspiration that was too slow for me to bother with after about two viewings.

But did they do it? One feels that Graham has been overly sympathetic to the Ingrams, who did suffer from a disgraceful early 2000s version of a social media pile-on, but perhaps that is an offset to the verdicts delivered at Southwark Crown Court. The sentencing though? Really? You have to answer a lot more than 15 questions fraudulently to get up to £1m in benefit fraud and I doubt such felons would be treated as leniently as this middle-class trio.

People will make up their own minds (and, yep, they do ask the audience), but I was left with an impression that often flits across my mind when such conspiracies are postulated. With such a lack of security offering an open invitation to first slide into The Chair and second climb up to the jackpot, one wonders why it took so long for someone to try it. Or, maybe it didn’t and there’s a mastermind sitting by a swimming pool now, sipping a dry martini planning their next heist to bag something rather less prestigious, but rather more valuable, than the Mastermind trophy.  

Quiz is at Chichester Festival Theatre until 30 September and on tour

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld ( and feels privileged to see so much of his home city's theatre. He writes about ... Gary Naylor">(read more about this author)



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