Reviews London TheatreReviewsWest End & Central Published 11 April 2018

Review: Quiz at the Noël Coward Theatre

March 31 - June 16

Let’s play: Chris Tarrant quizzes you on the West End transfer of James Graham’s latest hit play.

Fergus Morgan
Quiz, Noël Coward Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson.

Quiz, Noël Coward Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson.

*Please read this entire review in your best Chris Tarrant voice, preferably slouched on a bar-stool-type chair, fingers tracing your temple in that vintage Tarrant style. If you want to, you can put this music on before you begin. There are no lifelines because I couldn’t think of a fun way to do them, but go ahead, call a family member or just ask some random people around you what they reckon. Answers at the bottom.

Da da da, da da da, daaaaaaaaaa. Dum.

Hello and welcome to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I’m Chris Tarrant (no I’m not), and tonight, if you answer all five (I haven’t got all day) of the below questions correctly, you could be walking away with one million pounds (not really, obviously – this is Exeunt).

So, my first contestant is [insert name here] from [insert home town here]. So [insert name here], if you’re ready, let’s play Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

Da da da, da da da, daaaaaaaaa. Dum.

Question one, for £100 (nope, it’s not): Who is the most prescient political playwright working in Britain today, whose wildly successful 2017 saw West End runs for not one, not two, but three of his plays – This House, Ink, and Labour of Love – and who has just opened YET ANOTHER sure-fire hit at the Noël Coward? It’s called Quiz, it’s a transfer from Chichester Festival Theatre, and it’s all about Charles Ingram, the army major who fraudulently answered his way to winning the million on classic quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in 2003, using a few accomplices and an elaborate system of coughs.

A – James Graham (cough, cough)
B – Graham James
C – Janet Graham
D – Graham Janet

Da da da, da da da, daaaaaaaaa. Dum.

Question two, for £1000 (still no): What exactly is said playwright trying to achieve by putting this pretty damn amazing story on stage?

A – Tell a rollickingly good story about a man who nearly managed to cheat one of the nation’s most beloved quiz shows out of an astronomical sum of money, with a scheme so audacious its almost incredible.

B – Present a loving homage to British gameshows down the ages, and simultaneously squeeze in a whole load of history and psychology surrounding those shows, and particularly surrounding WWTBAM. Somehow, he manages to make the rise of the money-focussed TV show a symbol of degenerate, Thatcherite Britain (we all want more, more, more), and turn the head honchos behind it into a gaggle of pernicious, manipulative wankers preying on society’s psychological neuroses for cash.

C – Make a timely and eloquent point about narrative and media spin. About justice in the courtroom and in the public sphere. About British people’s uncanny penchant for building people up only to tear them down, and our innate preference for believing someone is a cheat rather than smarter than us. About how truth is an entirely relative concept, and about how if you start saying something often enough, it eventually becomes reality. Trump, Brexit, all that shit.

D – All of the above. He’s the most prescient political playwright currently working in Britain after all.

Da da da, da da da, daaaaaaaaa. Dum.

Question three, for £10,000 (you wish). How does director Daniel Evans realise those intentions on stage? And does it work?

A – He nails it, mate. Absolutely knocks it out of the park. It starts as a courtroom drama, with Paul Bazely and Sarah Woodward’s barristers quizzing Ingram, his wife Diana, his accomplice Tecwen Whittock, plus a host of WWTBAM suits and producers, then explodes into a frenzy of short scenes and skits, gradually filling in main characters’ back-stories, plus a lot more besides, over a gloriously entertaining two and a half hours.

B – He includes loads of stress-free audience participation – pub quizzes, gameshows for those lucky enough to be plucked from the on-stage seating, and – the evening’s most innovative touch – gets the audience to vote on whether they think Ingram and his conspirators are guilty or innocent. And he does this not once, but twice – once at the end of the first half, after the prosecution has rested, and once at the end of the second, after the defence has had her say. It’s a fun device, but also a powerful one, the complete shift in sympathies achieved by the conclusion a salient reminder of just how susceptible we are to the well-told tale.

C – It’s good – really good, to be fair – but it is slightly annoying they don’t have the rights to the official WWTBAM theme tune. Plus it does get a bit gimmicky at times. The scenes are so short and so slick, the lights so bright, the music so loud and the live camera feeds so head-spinning that you sometimes wish everything would just CALM DOWN FOR A SEC so I can get my shit together.

D – All of the above. It’s a bloody rollercoaster and – can’t really imagine Chris Tarrant saying this bit – theatre can be more than one thing at once you know? Jeez.

Da da da, da da da, daaaaaaaaa. Dum.

Okay, here’s a cheque for £10,000… BUT WE DON’T WANT TO GIVE YOU THAT! (Every time, every bloody time. Classic.)

Question four, for £100,000 (calm down, it’s not real). How is Evans’ ensemble cast?

A – They’re Duracell bunnies the lot of them. Shifting roles, swapping costumes, haring about Robert Jones set – a mock-up of the WWTBAM studio, with a giant neon cube in the middle – at lightning speed. Hats off to the lot of them.

B – Paul Bazely and Stephanie Street are likeably bland as Major Charles and Diana (lol, yeah the names), but then they’re supposed to be. They’re everymen/women (everypeople), classic contestants, blank cheques who we can pin all our hopes and dreams on, then hate with all our guts when they get fail or get found out. Hats off to them too.

C – It’s really all about Keir Charles and his wonderful – wonderful – Chris Tarrant impression. There are moments he gets it toe-wrigglingly right. Like when a contestant phones a friend, they pick up and Keir nails his customary greeting: “John! Chris Tarrant here from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”. And when he does that iconic – iconic – Christ Tarrant lean, slouching back in his chair, brow furrowed, finger and thumb in the shape of an L (on his forehead. I said, the years start coming and they don’t stop coming – SHUT UP SMASH MOUTH) against his temple.

D – All of the above, obviously

Da da da, da da da, daaaaaaaaa. Dum

Question five, for £1,000,000 (bugger it, this one’s for real). Has this stupid review been a waste of your time and should you go see Quiz?

A – Yes and yes
B – No and no
C – No and yes
D – Yes and no

Bwaaaaaaaaaa.

And that klaxon means we’re out of time, unfortunately. Tune in again next time, when James Graham (whoops given the answer away) will probably have got a polished political play running in every theatre inside the M25.

ANSWERS: 1-D (only joking it’s A), 2-D, 3-D, 4-D, 5-A.

Quiz is at the Noël Coward Theatre until June 16th. For more details, click here.

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Fergus Morgan is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Quiz at the Noël Coward Theatre Show Info


Directed by Daniel Evans

Written by James Graham

Cast includes Sharon Ballard, Paul Bazely, Keir Charles, Greg Haiste, Mark Meadows, Henry Pettigrew, Gavin Spokes, Stephanie Street, Jay Villiers, Lizzie Winkler, Sarah Woodward, Russell Anthony, Charlotte Bradford, Mark Huckett

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