With the opening of Quiz in the West End, James Graham has solidified himself as the hottest British playwright in the game right now. Up until December, all three of his previous plays were staged at major theatres. I looked up his age and found out he is only 36, so that’s quite an achievement!
Anyone who lived through the early ought’s knows the incredibly bizarre story of Charles “The Coughing Major” Ingram. Ingram won a million on the TV programme ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ in 2001, but his earnings were stripped because the studio claimed he had planted an audience member to give coded coughs so ITV held the tape under immediate suspicion. Ingram was later convicted for his crimes in court, but don’t feel too bad for the guy because the notoriety of the story garnered him appearances on several subsequent reality shows, for which I’m sure he was exceptionally compensated.
Quiz was super fun. The opening act plays as a comedy of conspiracy. Ingram and his crew are pushed up against a wall financially and are enacting this sinister yet clumsy deception. In the middle of this is Keir Charles who plays Chris Tarrant to perfect, much to the delight of the audience. Charles was definitely a standout in the cast, he got a couple applause breaks only by using facial ticks and mannerisms.
Each member of the audience is given a keypad and is asked to vote at the end of the first act on the guilt of Ingram and his wife. Most people voted guilty. The second act then became a bit more serious, not in a bad way though. It was more of a shift in perspective. It showed ITV’s executives in a less than positive light, scouring for any evidence to convict Ingram, possibly making some along the way. During this act, Sarah Woodward plays Sonia Woodley, the attorney defending Ingram. Charles was the most fun to watch, but Woodward was perhaps the best actress of the night. At the end act two, audiences were again asked to vote guilty or innocent, and this time more than half believed Ingram to be innocent.
I’ve been to a couple different interactive theatre experiences, and I usually find the gimmicks used to be bulky and unnecessary. I liked it in this case, however, because it was used to drive the entire point of the play. Ingram is more a victim of media manipulation than a con artist in act two. When I went home I researched the story to see if Ingram actually was innocent, and it turns out he is most likely guilty. He also had his army rank stripped in 2003 for insurance fraud, so, maybe not the most trustworthy guy.
I really enjoyed the ideas of the play, which could be compared to the mob theory and media manipulation for both the push for war in Iraq and the recent American election of Donald Trump. If I had to point out something negative I’d say some points can get a bit repetitive or slightly slow, but I am in no way taking away from the achievements of Quiz. I enjoyed it start to finish and it made me think. Isn’t that what theatre’s for?
Catch it before it’s gone at the Noël Coward Theatre in the West End as it’s only running for a strictly limited season until the 16th of June. Here’s the trailer: