James Graham, who already has two plays running side by side on St Martin’s Lane with Ink and Labour of Love, may well soon have a third in town if the playful and thoughtful Quiz also moves there.
Once again Graham has drawn his inspiration from real life events. Quiz reimagines what may have happened behind the scenes during a now infamous moment in television history, when, in 2001, a contestant on ITV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? was accused of gaming the system to win the million pound prize..
Charles Ingram was an army major whose wife and brother-in-law had previously also been contestants on the show. He, his wife and an alleged accomplice Tecwen Whittock ended up on trial at Southwark Crown Court, and convicted of “procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception” after the programme makers Celador presented evidence that Ingram had been prompted to the right answers by coughs from Whittock who was seated in the studio audience.
As in his Monster Raving Loony, Graham’s 2016 play about Screaming “Lord” Sutch, the playwright adopts a free-wheeling, revue-like approach to organising the thoroughly researched background material. So we get a first act recap of the appeal of quiz shows from Mastermind to Take Your Pick! and The Price is Right, complete with impersonations of hosts like Des O’Connor and Bruce Forsyth. Some audience members are even conscripted to be contestants, while all of us are directly involved in a little group pub quiz of our own.
But the meat of the play takes the form of a courtroom drama that recreates the trial, where again we are collectively invited to act as jury via personal electronic devices.
Graham and director Daniel Evans expertly ratchet up the tension – and the possible doubts advanced by defence attorney Sonia Woodley QC (a persuasive and determined Sarah Woodward) – on a story whose outcome we already know. Designer Robert Jones’ set consists of a rotating cube of strip lights for the main TV studio that also seamlessly doubles up as the courtroom.
Gavin Spokes offers an utterly inhabited portrait of Ingram, wearing his strange unease with a plausible sense of ambiguity, while Stephanie Street is simultaneously sympathetic and determined as his wife Diana. The rest of the company have to impressively multi-task as different characters.
Plays and musicals are regularly made out of films, but the appropriating of popular TV shows is much more rare. Graham has fashioned a fascinating, multi-textured and very entertaining play out of this familiar genre.