Review: Quiz (King's Theatre Glasgow)
Updated: Nov 6
Quick-fire theatrics but questionable pacing with Rory Bremner
You’ve gotta love a low-steaks scandal in times like these. We want to focus on smaller things, to debate topics that aren’t likely to result in offence, screaming matches, or cancellations. In fact, we like it so much that we are ready to revisit the same scandal a few short years after a TV adaptation came out. QUIZ: the Coughing Major Millionaire Scandal, written by James Graham and directed by Daniel Evans and Seán Linnen looks back on the case of the notorious Who Wants to be a Millionaire? contestant Charles Ingram, and whether he and his intellectual cronies tried to swindle the show of a million pounds.
Photo Credit: Johan Persson
Lewis Reeves plays the potential trickster in question and does a fantastic job of never letting the audience figure out if they resent him or feel sorry for him. He, and indeed the production at large, are able to show how well-to-do middle-class white people see themselves and how they are seen by others; either as charmingly and intellectually out-of-touch, or greedy, stuck-up and unrelatable. Roy Bremner’s performance as Chris Tarrant is delightfully hammy, and yet he never chews up the scenery or tries to outshine his co-stars. This is just as well, because as strong as both he, Reeves, and the rest of the cast are it is not the performances that leave the biggest impression – it’s the direction and the writing.
The series was certainly a dramatisation of events, but it did at least aim to examine the situation from all angles as neatly as possible. Not so with the stage adaptation –because Graham, Evans and Linnen are too busy having fun. Firstly there is the widely advertised tech-assisted audience participation. The audience are each given a wee gadget that lets them respond in the “Ask the Audience” round, but more importantly, lets them publicly vote on whether Ingram is guilty or not. It is a fun novelty (albeit a little dystopian from the real Charles Ingram’s point of view), but on top of that, the staging is dynamic and imaginative, spinning minor parts of the story into elaborate theatrical set-ups. Quiz demonstrates a level of creativity that I rarely see in touring productions of this size, and it is all the better for it. They choose to linger on aspects of the story that have the most theatrical potential, for example when Ingram’s attempts to memorise music trivia turns into a romantic flashback with his wife. The risk is that when these moments don’t pay off they feel like filler, such as a prolonged tribute to The Pirates of Penzance at the start.
More importantly, scenes like that come at the expense of important details and plot development. For example, when Ingram’s brother-in-law announces that he is running away to escape his mounting debt we aren’t given enough build-up or explanation to make the moment impactful. Even so, if you have heard the story before you aren’t likely to care. Quiz is one of those rare occasions when the existence of a film or TV version of a show enhances the experience, rather than rendering it pointless. The people who will enjoy this the most are those who have already seen the television adaptation and already know the nitty-gritty details. This production is not so much a chance to learn about the scandal afresh, in fact newbies are likely to get lost, but a chance to explore what can be done theatrically with the concept. They are putting the cart before the horse with this approach it is true. But in a time when touring theatre is often slow to catch up to trends and talking points, perhaps assuming audience foreknowledge is the key to keeping a performance fresh? Perhaps we will see more productions like Quiz in the future, where theatrical fun takes priority over detail and narrative. I, for one, welcome such performances – so long as we aren’t quizzed on the plot details afterwards. Four stars.
Whispers from the crowd: "I didn't have any expectations but I quite enjoyed it. But I found it a tad boring." "I'd give it 7.5 out of 10"
Quiz has completed its run at King's Theatre Glasgow, and will tour in Salford from the 24th to the 28th of October, in Norwich from the 31st of October to the fourth of November, in Bromley from the 6th to the 11th of November, in Canterbury from the 15th to the 18th of November, and Bath from the 20th to the 25th of November.