"the gross and scope of my opinion ..." Hamlet I,1.
Friday, November 24, 2017
Chichester Festival Theatre at the
is truth and what is lies, what is fact and what is fable ?”
ponders the Headmaster in Daniel Evans’ first play of the season,
Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On.
same philosophical puzzles are posed in his last, a new piece by
James [This House] Graham.
gets the meta-theatricals in early, as one cast member hesitates
before taking the oath in court. The whole truth ? Nothing but the
truth ? Is truth really in the eye of the beholder ? There
is much musing on the media, the image not the message, Psy-Ops,
nature of memory and the very British tendency
to build someone up only to knock them down. The
issues raised run much deeper than popular television.
a remarkable entertainment – funny, thought-provoking, nostalgic,
and, famously, interactive. We get a keypad to vote with, as well as
a clipboard for the pub quiz questions posed by warm-up man Paul
the more light-hearted first half, we get, as well as our pub quiz –
TV themes, zodiac signs, brother to York and Wessex – a voting key
pad, a potted history of the TV game
show from Take Your Pick through Bullseye to Mastermind,
and an introduction to the incestuous “community” of WWTBAM,
including Diana Ingram, her husband Major Charles and her nerdy
narrative, and the courtroom snippets, here are skewed to the
Production Company’s prosecution case, and the audience vote at the
commercial break is 90/10 against the Ingrams. But after the
interval, we see the “facts” from the defendants’ perspective.
We’re being manipulated again, of course, but less blatantly –
the shooting of family pet Buffy the cat – and there’s a
wonderful speech by the Portia for the defence [Sarah Woodward]. This
time, the vote clears the trio by 57 to 43 – conspiracy theorists
might note that, in 20 shows,
this is the fifth time these exact percentages were recorded.
given a glossy production almost in the round. “Just like the
telly,” with shiny black studio floor and a neon cube centre stage.
The intimate family moments work well, and less naturalistically,
the choreographed coughing as the couple are hounded on the tube, the
talk-back whispers, the invention of the Machine, rising like
Frankenstein’s monster to the sound of Handel. As the Major is
coached in the closed book of popular culture, there’s a brief
Coronation Street, and several excruciating visits
to a Karaoke in Daventry.
excellent performances – Bazely is the prosecution’s QC as well
as the pub quiz man, Henry Pettigrew the pathetic brother, Jay
Villiers the Judge as well as ITV boss Liddiment, a witness, and an
unsympathetic police officer.
Meadows plays Tecwen Whittock who allegedly did most of the coughing,
as well as the Major’s commanding officer - a lovely moment where
share a love of G&S “I've
information vegetable, animal, and mineral, I know the kings of
England, and I quote the fights historical”...
Street gives us a likeable, though quiz-fixated and determined, Diana
– Gavin Spokes squirms and sweats in the hot seat, a man out of his
depth and his league. And Keir Charles plays not only Tarrant, all
his mannerisms magnified on the huge monitors, but, his quick changes
done at the edge of the stage, all the other smiling, smarmy quiz
inquisitors [no, not Michael Miles, [who
now remembers him?]but
Des O’Connor, who took over Take Your Pick in the 90s], even
briefly Brucie on VT.
the show’s sales pitch has it:
The world premiere of a new play by acclaimed writer James Graham?
A provocative re-examination of the conviction of Charles Ingram,
‘the coughing Major’, for cheating, following his appearance
Wants To Be A Millionaire?
A hilarious celebration of the great tradition of the British quiz
A razor-sharp analysis of the 21st century’s dangerous new attitude
to truth and lies?
four, of course, is the correct answer, though I might have voted for
B – based on the book Bad Show: The Quiz, the Cough, the
Millionaire Major – the play shines an unflattering light on the
media, the police, the production company and makes a cogent case, if
not for exoneration, then at least for a re-examination of this