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A CurtainUp London Review

"Pub quizzes satisfy two British obsessions: drinking and being right." — Paul Smith of Celador
Gavin Spokes as Major Charles Ingram and Keir Charles as Chris Tarrant (Photo: Johan Persson)
It was the ratings sensation of September 2001, after the dreadful events of 9/11 of course. An Army major reached the million pound prize on the television quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? only to be accused of cheating and ending up in court on trial in 2003. James Graham's play which first aired at Chichester Festival Theatre, is based on the book "The Quiz, the Cough, the Millionaire Major" by Bob Woffinden and James Plaskett.

The set for Quiz looks like a television studio with a light box representing the camera area and multiple screens to give the audience the same close ups they would get on a television programme. An annoying warm up man (I think it was Keir Charles) butters up the audience before we hear the case for the prosecution with a judge and two barristers, for the prosecution, Nicholas Hilliard QC (Paul Bazely) and for the defence, Sonia Woodley QC (Sarah Woodward) against the three accused.

Major Charles Ingram (Gavin Spokes), his wife Diana Ingram (Stephanie Street) and lecturer Tecwen Whittock (Mark Meadows) are the accused. By way of background we see Major Ingram meeting his new CO and bonding with him by singing the "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General" song from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. The owner of "Celador" the company that produces Millionaire explains that pub quizzes satisfy two British obsessions, "Drinking and Being Right!" We see Tecwen Whittock being approached by a fixer who says he can help him get onto the show and, once there, get into the chair.

Charles babysits while Diana Ingram is often out quizzing at a local pub with her brother Adrian Pollock (Henry Pettigrew) but first James Graham gives us a brief and truncated history of television quiz shows on commercial television, from Take Your Pick to Bullseye to The Price Is Right using audience members sitting on the stage as contestants. 1998 sees the initial idea for the Millionaire show based on multiple choice with a jazzy delivery in the shape of a squirming Chris Tarrant (Keir Charles). They talk about the drama, the lighting and music for the show which had an audience in the UK of 19 million, one-third of the population. The prizes were funded by the cost of the premium rate phone calls made by applicants to be contestants.

Diana and her brother Adrian are taking the "getting onto the quiz show" science to an art with a view to a book, as they analyse when to phone in before the telephone lines are advertised on the show, what accents to use and how to answer the questions. The next hurdle having got onto the panel of possible contestants is "the Fastest Finger First" where the panel are tasked with a general knowledge question putting four items in order. The person with the fastest correct answer gets to sit in the hot seat. Tecwen Whittock, the man accused of providing the coughs, was a regular on the quiz circuit and had been in contact with the Pollocks and Diana asking for help in getting selected for the show.

Diana and Adrian have both been on the show after being on the panel several times: both won £32,000 and now it is Charles' turn. An analysis of Diana's phones reveals 4 different pager numbers to an unknown recipient but Charles struggles on the first few questions and by the time the show is up he has used two of his three life lines to reach £4000. On his way to the million, the Major makes some chronic mistakes opting for Craig David after having said he's never heard of him and on the £500,000 question being convinced initially that Baron Haussmann laid out Berlin and not Paris. These spectacular U turns were explained in the book as the Ingrams were trying to make the show more exciting by choosing a wrong answer first. I don't think so!

The theatre audience are invited to vote at the end of the first act as to Ingram's guilt or innocence and they find him guilty but they haven't heard the defence. The defence case rests on the jury being given a doctored version of the show tapes enhancing the coughing clues, and a case for confirmation bias when the floor crew were convinced that something dodgy was going on, which meant that they only picked up on evidence which substantiated the case against the Ingrams.

The audience were again asked after hearing the defence case to vote and this time they found the Ingrams innocent by a very small margin. Of course this in reality would have meant a hung jury as percentages do not form part of British justice.

Keir Charles caricatures Chris Tarrant with excessive gurning which greatly amuses the audience and the major in Gavin Spokes' hands seems rather incompetent but affable. My conclusion on the show is that it will find an audience for its novelty but it is light entertainment, very scrappy in dealing with so many different issues and gimmicky rather than good drama.

After seeing Quiz I watched the real original recordings, not the edited ones given to the jury, and the close ups of Diana, Charles Ingram's scowling wife. It was said that Ingram wasn't meant to go beyond the £64,000 needed to clear their debts when it would have been much harder to "catch" the cheating but somehow he carried on. Most damning for me were the U turns, the crew catching Marcus, another brother of Diana's, twice outside the studio on a mobile phone who was told on the first occasion that phones weren't allowed near the studio, and of course, the five minute conversation with Tecwen Whittock on Diana's phone in the evening after the first show. In reality, all three were found guilty of "procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception"and given fines and suspended jail sentences. Charles Ingram was asked to resign from the army and now sells jewellery made by his wife on a market stall and picks up appearances on celebrity television shows like Hell's Kitchen and Wife Swap.

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Written by James Graham
Directed by Daniel Evans
With: Sharon Ballard, Paul Bazely, Keir Charles, Greg Haaiste, Mark Meadows, Henry Pettigrew, Gavin Spokes, Stephanie street, Jay Villiers, Lizzie Winkler, Sarah Woodward
Design: Robert Jones
Music and Sound Design: Ben and Max Ringham
Lighting Design: Tim Lutkin
Video Design: Tim Reid
Movement: Naomi Said
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5140
Booking to 16th June 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 11th April 2018 performance at the Noel Coward Theatre, 85-88 St Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4AP (Tube: Leicester Square)
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