Quiz review: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? play is a winner ★★★★

Quiz show fans will love this entertaining play about the ITV programme's cheating scandal

QUIZ by James Graham (photo: Johan Persson)

Question 1: Which prolific playwright saw their three plays of 2017 garner two West End transfers, much critical acclaim and an Olivier Award?

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Need to phone a friend?

Is that your final answer?

It was, of course, man of the moment James Graham. His newspaper drama Ink about the birth of The Sun won favourable headlines (and a best supporting actor accolade for Bertie Carvel’s portrayal of Rupert Murdoch), while Labour of Love, on the schisms of the political left, picked up the award for best new comedy at the Oliviers on Sunday evening.

Now Quiz has arrived at Noel Coward Theatre, and once again sees Graham displaying his knack for entertainingly recreating a historic moment in time.

Charles Ingram, forever known as “the coughing Major”, appeared on ITV’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in 2001, walking away with the show’s top prize. Infamously, though, he was later arrested in a dawn raid, along with his wife and an accomplice, and charged with defrauding the show.

Gavin Spokes as Charles Ingram and Stephanie Street as Diana Ingram (photos: Johan Persson)
Gavin Spokes as Charles Ingram and Stephanie Street as Diana Ingram (photos: Johan Persson)

Quiz sets the subsequent trial in the show’s television studio, reconstructing the accusation that, via some strategic (and rather comical) coughing, they cheated their way to a million pounds. The first half sets out the case for the prosecution and the defence gets its turn after the interval.

The mixing up of the judicial process and public entertainment is more than just a happy coincidence. Weaving the two together poses the question, voiced by the defence, as to whether people are more inclined to believe an entertaining lie over a less extravagant truth. Is justice truly being served in an era when even the news seeks to entertain?

The answer, as the show demonstrates, is not clear cut.

In a clever nod to one of the show’s famous lifelines, the audience is asked to cast their own vote. The question at hand isn’t a brainteaser, but whether or not they deem the Ingrams guilty of the crime, and whether a crime has even been committed. It casts the audience as jury, which fits nicely with the interactive nature of the show.

Daniel Evans’s production is brash and bold, with plenty of over-the-top showbiz razzmatazz. The stage is transformed into a studio set, propped with lights, cameras, crew and giant television screens. The arguments are played out with a kaleidoscopic energy as scenes unfold at pace, exaggerating the madcap zeal required to sustain a performance.

Keir Charles is excellent as Chris Tarrant, overplaying his mannerisms to great comic effect. And Gavin Spokes does a great job showing us a much more humanised and sympathetic major than the infamous media characterisations.

If you’re a quiz nut, then this will be right up your street. An ode to quizzing, and the people who quiz, it shows us why we fell for it. There are loving portrayals of slightly eccentric, nerdy people whose obsessive joy is not only endearing, but makes them part of a community. There’s even an in-show pub quiz, and a nostalgic walk through some of the best shows from yesteryear – Take Your Pick, Bullseye, The Price Is Right – with funny pastiches of their hosts.

Question 2: Should you go and see Quiz?

Fortunately, this is an easy one. And if you need to phone a friend, the only thing you’ll be asking them is if they can join you.

Quiz is at London’s Noel Coward Theatre until 16 June

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