If ever a show completely captured the essence of a time gone by, it is Rob Drummond’s Quiz Show. Set at the height of the television quiz show trend the play perfectly captures the sense of kitsch innocence and promise that these shows captured, juxtaposing this with a darker reality manifest behind the glitz.
At the start of the performance though, reality is far from the minds of the audience. The gaudy quiz show set, with its gold glitter streamers hanging from the ceiling, its flashing ‘applause’ signs and its fake palm trees, is stunning, a collision of the tacky and artful which is immediately appealing. Clashing colours combine to create a warm and inviting backdrop, and a multitude of television screens offer us interesting perspectives of the stage. I remember the childhood joy of watching these shows, of knowing the rules and understanding the format, knowing just what the shiny-suited presenter will say, how he (for, in most cases, it was a he) will say it with a renewed enthusiasm each time, moving across the stage with the familiar gestures and sparkle of magician. In my case, familiarity did not breed contempt and I believe there is still a place in our society for unadulterated escapism, for the parallel reality of the quiz show, where dreams do and can come true.
It is perhaps obvious, but nonetheless impossible, not to think of Jimmy Saville’s name in connection with Quiz Show, for it is, on the surface, a story about a teenage girl whose naive nature and adolescent adoration are brutally abused. Yet the show is about so much more than that; it looks at the corruption of youth, the violence of the silence of those who notice but don’t act, and most poignantly, the ongoing puzzle of sorting out, untangling and refiling the survival of traumatic and repressed experience. It is about the world we live in and the hedonistic tendencies which dominate our reality and light entertainment programmes and filter into many aspects of our culture. It is about looking beyond the obvious – looking for the truth even though, as the script says, ‘the truth can be cruel!’
The construction of the show is such that it flows from comedy to drama with ease and conviction. Initially, the performance is imbued with wit and charm – and as audience members we play our part well finding everything hopelessly funny before the show is abruptly turned on its head. The relevance of this is hard hitting, how long can we watch without intervening, for how long will we applause when the applause light flashes before we grasp the part we are also playing by staying being implicit. And then it all unravels: slowly the quiz clues match up, shaping the world on stage as unreal, and unfolding the bad dream of the urge to change the past, and to pull back the sequined curtain upon the truth.
Hamish Pirie’s production cleverly conceals and reveals; it gives us signposts but allows us space to interpret the text ourselves. Though there are moments when less could be more, points which are made a little too forcibly and perhaps too many twists and turns, this is an important work delivered with a raw and vital energy at a difficult time, as we still reel from the BBC scandal.