It was the cough heard around the world.
In 2001, when British Army Major Charles Ingram won the top prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, he became the third person ever do so – and the first to be denied the winnings. After a lengthy trial he was found to have procured the money by deception, in conspiracy with his wife Diana and fellow contestant Tecwen Whittock. The prosecution’s case rested on the production company’s claim that Charles, who’d played erratically throughout his time in the hot seat, was guided to the correct answers through a series of coughs from Diana, Tecwen, and an underground ring of Britain’s top quizzers, who’d get a cut of the prize money.
Directed by Daniel Evans and Seán Linnen, and written by James Graham, Quiz takes its audience through the story through the lens of the trial that followed. In Act One, we hear the case for the Prosecution; in Act Two, the case for the Defence – all while using Millionaire’s infamously stress-inducing psychological tactics: the pulsing heartbeat, the gradually dimming lights, and the twisted spectacle of watching someone unravel before your very eyes. No wonder it quickly became the world’s most popular TV quiz show: you quite literally couldn’t look away.
Comedian and Britain’s top impressionist Rory Bremner stars as Chris Tarrant – and he’s utterly uncanny in the role, capturing every Tarrant-esque tic. His scenes with Lewis Reeves (I May Destroy You, The Midwich Cuckoos) as the unassuming Major Ingram in particular seem lifted exactly from the episode itself. This is in no small part thanks to the spot-on set, designed by Robert Jones and lit by Ryan Day, which brilliantly evokes the original game show and transitions spookily well into an imposing courtroom.
This is far from your typical courtroom drama. It is brimming with energy, poignancy and lots of laughs – not least from Mark Benton (Northern Lights, Shakespeare and Hathaway) as a series of hilarious characters, from the bum bag-toting top dog of ITV to the leather-coated leader of the quizzers’ secret circle. A brilliant ensemble features strong supporting performances from Charley Webb (Emmerdale) as Charles’ quiz-obsessive wife Diana, as well as Danielle Henry, Leo Wringer, Jay Taylor and Stefan Adegbola. And do look out for scene-stealing turns from Sukh Ojla and Marc Antolin.
Nominated for two Olivier Awards including Best New Comedy, the West End smash hit was adapted for TV in 2020, starring Michael Sheen, Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford. But there’s something special about the theatrical production and how it poses the ultimate 50/50 question: Were the Ingrams guilty, or not guilty? You might want to phone a friend, or ask the audience – which Quiz does, by giving them the opportunity to vote, and not just as a contestant’s lifeline. Fresh from a smash-hit run on the West End, Quiz perfectly captures the heart-pumping tension of the world’s most popular TV quiz show. Catch it while you can – and that’s my final answer!
Quiz is performing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 18 – 21 October. More information on the show and how to book tickets can be found here.
Quiz is a fictional imagining based on real events which took place in 2001 following an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? It is not in any way connected with the makers of the programme or any of the individuals portrayed. The television programme Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is produced by 2waytraffic.