There’s only one certainty here, and that’s Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2017 summer season is signing off with an impressive final flourish, a sparky, snappy production delivered with panache and imagination.
At the heart of it all is the infamous “coughing Major”, Charles Ingram, the man so shamefully convicted of cheating his way to a million quid on that strange celebration of greed and trivia, the quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Having read a book about it, playwright James Graham is seemingly convinced that the major was the victim of a terrible misjustice. Helped by a bit of high-tech interactivity and an excellent cast, Graham has decided to convince us in turn that Ingram was more sinned against than sinning.
It’s a bizarre line to take for the simple reason that no one is ever going to know.
The play does its best to present the Ingrams in the best possible light in a second half which goes all out to show them as victims. But in truth, the evidence in their favour isn’t any more convincing than the evidence that convicted them.
But that’s not to say the play isn’t thoroughly entertaining. It is – despite an opening ten minutes which is a disorientating mess. Presumably it’s deliberately so. Quite why is anyone’s guess – rather like the Ingrams’ guilt or innocence.
However, once the piece gets going, Quiz offers a deeply-impressive night – for all that you can’t help feeling that it’s being overly kind to the major and his wife who came across at the time of the trial as distinctly less ordinary than they are made to appear here.
Director Daniel Evans gives the whole piece pace and fizz; Gavin Spokes and Stephanie Street are excellent as the…. is it a) quiz martyrs or is it b) dodgy cheats?
But the show stealer is Keir Charles as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire host Chris Tarrant in a performance which uncannily captures the uneasy charm which made the whole show so oddly distasteful in the first place.
It’s a portrayal which half leaves you thinking that if the Ingrams did actually do it, well, good on them. Which is itself a tribute to the play. Bar the opening, it’s amusing, slick, intriguing and very, very provocative. In other words, everything you’d want new writing to be.