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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Arifa Akbar

Quiz review – Rory Bremner is an uncanny Chris Tarrant

Lewis Reeves as Major Charles Ingram, and Rory Bremner as Chris Tarrant in Quiz at Chichester Festival theatre.
More fond than forensic … Lewis Reeves (left) as Charles Ingram and Rory Bremner as Chris Tarrant in Quiz at Chichester Festival theatre. Photograph: Johan Persson

There is a keen sense of nostalgia to this revival of James Graham’s 2017 play about the “coughing major”. The court case made headlines when Charles and Diana Ingram were found guilty of wrongdoing on the quizshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? It is surprising then that it manages to keep its intrigue bottled, fresh and funny, playing out like light entertainment as well as a critique of it.

Its three central actors bear uncanny resemblances: Rory Bremner, as the host Chris Tarrant perfects the facial tics and easy manner while curbing the urge to play him as a caricature. There is some exaggeration when he elongates a vowel or smiles for too long but these are delightfully controlled. The Ingrams are the epitome of the home counties couple: her in an alice band, him in chinos. Charley Webb makes her stage debut as Diana and has some of the same sober, strait-laced qualities as Sian Clifford in the 2020 three-part TV adaptation but adds the nerdish innocence of a gameshow super fan. The major, played by Lewis Reeves, is as disarmingly sweet and squeaky clean.

As a play, it has Graham’s usual creative playfulness with jumps through time and intercepting scenes, all executed so well here. More than a simple dramatisation of events, it strives to show class and power biases within the modern entertainment industry and nascent reality TV culture, as well as showing a certain degree of trial by media. But its portrait of pop culture, from TV execs to pub quizzes, soap operas and karaoke nights, is more fond than forensic, though entertaining nonetheless.

Lewis Reeves and Charley Webb as Charles and Diana Ingram in Quiz.
The apogee of the home counties couple … Lewis Reeves and Charley Webb as Charles and Diana Ingram in Quiz. Photograph: Johan Persson

There is a harder edge to the underground community of quizzing anoraks comprising white male Middle Englanders who speak of hacking the system and call themselves “The Syndicate”. Their speculation about what really happened in the case of the Ingrams, and how quizshows fix the game to come out on top, captures something of our world of conspiracy theory and distrust of power.

Under the direction of Daniel Evans and Seán Linnen, the court and TV studio are blended into one on Robert Jones’s loose, fluid set and this conflation carries a significance beyond staging alone: if the show was set up like an interrogation or a gladiatorial contest, as we hear it to have been, then the court case became an extension of the drama.

Ryan Day’s spotlights and blue tints conjure the stuff of Saturday night television while Ben and Max Ringham’s sound design has the signature pulse. We, the audience, become TV-cum-court jurors by casting our own votes. Our verdicts? The Ingrams were innocent.

At Chichester Festival theatre until 30 September. Then touring

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