Noel Coward Theatre, London
WITH four West End hits in just over a year, James Graham is now incontrovertibly our most prolific crowd-pleaser.
And Quiz, his play about the man who cheated in Who Wants to be a Millionaire back in 2001, shows us why.
Fast, energetic and fiercely participative, it taps into all those hidden instincts that make adults love to behave like children, with party games, competitions, quizzes and general permission to shout and show off.
At the same time it flatters us with ideas of a serious nature so that, unless you’re a real curmudgeon, you can’t help but ditch your critical faculties and join in. The result is an easy and diverting way to pass an evening — a brilliant construct set to bring the punters in.
The playwright builds on an almost forensic analysis of his audience. In particular, he exploits the nation’s collective passion for quizzes rather as ITV did when they first launched Who Wants to be a Millionaire back in 1998, in the days when quick money-making ploys seemed all the rage.
Major Charles Ingram, we know, was convicted of seeking answers from a coughing accomplice in the quiz audience. In the play, we are asked to deliver our own verdict twice — once, when we know the accusation and again after Gavin Spokes’s bumbling and slightly idiotic major has had time to pluck at the heart-strings. The results are revelatory.
Meanwhile, the major’s go-getting wife (Stephanie Street) tells us she likes quizzes because the answers are either right or wrong and it’s comforting when things can be “known.” But what the play shows us is that things can’t be known, especially when it comes to assessing guilt, and that art is itself “a lie that somehow helps us to recognise truth.”
What it also reveals is the tacky, exploitative nature of TV “reality” shows and the way in which “cheating” can take many forms.
It's a night of pure theatre with illusion after illusion as actors confide in us, video screens glow and Keir Charles mercilessly caricatures a hilariously unsuspecting Chris Tarrant.
And, even if you have somehow been seduced into behaving like a pawn in the playwright’s game, you must still acknowledge the play's cleverness and take your hat off to a writer who stays one step ahead of you all the way.
Runs until June 16, box office: noelcowardtheatre.co.uk
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