I can vividly recall sitting down as a family to watch the very first episode of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ It was the biggest cash prize in British television history, and audiences were immediately hooked. The prospect of ‘easy’ money was part of it, but the tension created in the studio was the real draw, a scenario James Graham manages to recreate in Quiz, now playing at The Noël Coward Theatre, following a successful run in Chichester.
Quiz focusses on one particular incident in Millionaire’s long run, that of Charles Ingram, the Army Major who, seemingly against all odds, made it through fifteen questions to win the jackpot. We all know what happened next, in a rather awkward phone call he’s told there’s a suspicion he cheated, and the police were now involved. But how much of the scandal, trial, and subsequent documentary was based in fact, and how much was pure entertainment?
At first glance, Quiz feels very much like Network at the National, The television cameras, and the giant screens, there’s even audience members on stage, although admittedly they aren’t tucking in to a gourmet meal. But almost immediately the tone is set as ‘light entertainment’, we get a warm up act, and instructions on how to use our voting pads, and gosh it’s thrilling! No wonder Celador went on to sell this kind of format across the world.
The music and lighting are very similar to the original TV series, but not exact. Either this is for legal reasons, or to highlight that while this story is based in fact, it’s not a wholly accurate portrayal of events. Director, Daniel Evans, has certainly captured the spirit of the show balancing a court room drama with a jolly jaunt through ITV history, but even as the audience have their own pub quiz, James Graham very skillfully offers us the other side of the story.
Greg Haiste gives the audience plenty of laughs with his overblown caricatures of TV personalities, most importantly Chris Tarrant. It verges on pantomime, but is spot on the money for this production, allowing us to recognise what we are watching for what it is. Gavin Spokes as Charles Ingram, offers us a subtler version of the Major, easily led by his wife (Stephanie Street) and brother in law (Henry Pettigrew).
Bright lights and dramatic music, Quiz serves up a different edit of TV history, asking the audience to question the version of events they have become familiar with, and with no option to phone a friend, the majority did indeed change their minds (those voting pads served a purpose after all). James Graham has highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of both light entertainment and the Justice system in a funny and thought-provoking two hour episode, with just as much tension as the million pound question.