Andy Howells visits Cardiff’s New Theatre to see the play, Quiz by James Graham and starring Rory Bremner, Mark Benton and Charley Webb.
You really don’t have to remember the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire scandal to enjoy James Graham’s play Quiz, which plays Cardiff’s New Theatre this week. Although it was over 20 years ago, some of the audience who attended Wednesday evenings performance were either too young or had foggy memories of original news events. For me, I was shocked at how much I had only remembered of the medias take on the story, unbalanced at best.
So, it’s welcoming to be reminded of the adage; Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, during a court scene. Did Major Charles Ingram attempt to pull off the shameless Coughing Major scam in front of the television cameras on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire by cheating. Or was there more to the story that escaped the media’s attention?
James Graham’s sharp and occasionally comedic script grabs our attention from the offset. The stage itself seamlessly blends the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire Set in the surroundings of a court room. The brilliant Rory Bremner steps on to the stage as the iconic Chris Tarrant and we are back in 2001. Bremner’s portrayal of Tarrant is lovingly caricatured, so that it underpins the proceedings with a sense of familiarity and cosiness.
Quiz first half follows the story from the shows pitch to TV executives, via realisation as a rating winner, before scandal hits and the Major wins £1,000,000 (allegedly aided by another contestant who coughs at the right answers). Keypads given to the audience enable us to judge at the end of the first act if the Ingram’s are guilty or not guilty.
The second half tells the story from the Ingram’s point of view and presents them in a much more sympathetic light than the media perception allowed over two decades ago. Their subsequent persecution from the public in general by deliberately imitating coughing in public places to violent attacks on their pets and children is a strong indicator that bullying en masse was a problem before social media came into our lives.
The media frenzy surrounding the court case is captured brilliantly by the ensemble cast taking on numerous roles as interviewers and interviewees, their images projected on TV screen back drops. The screens are used to great effect to pause and revisit the TV episode in which the crime allegedly takes place with camera angles carefully recreating the Millionaire shots as viewers might have seen them.
The performances are brilliant, and you really couldn’t wish for as diverse a cast. Mark Benton provides comedy in no less than five roles from Judge Rivlin to TV executive Adrian Woolfe and it’s a thrill to see this great actor on stage. Lewis Reeves and Charley Webb give believable performances as the Ingrams and shift their presentations brilliantly from the first to second act as the script demands. There are further strong performances from Leo Wringer, Jay Taylor, Stefan Adegbola, Marc Antolin and Sukh Ojla. Each actor involved carries a strong presence and really contributes to the overall enjoyment of the production.
And so, when we come to the end of the second act, the audience are asked to vote again to see if the Ingram’s were guilty or not guilty. The results are interesting, and you do feel part of a unique piece of theatre that gives the audience a voice.
Interactive and enthralling, Quiz is unmissable. It continues at Cardiff’s New Theatre until October 21.