Who wants to be a millionaire? Well in some ways would we all not like to be more financially comfortable than we are, to live an easier life without money worries? And given those thoughts it seems quite easy to see that some people, not criminally inclined, might be tempted to find a way to “improve” their circumstances by “manipulating” an opportunity.
Perhaps that was how it was for the Ingrams, an intelligent couple from middle England, one an army officer and the other a pub quiz fanatic. James Graham’s drama sets out the argument with a re-staging of the televised quiz show and presenting the case in a dramatised courtroom, the accused, their supposed conspirators and of course TV presenter Chris Tarrant, beautifully and convincingly portrayed by Rory Bremner, an impressionist of real skill.
And to add to the drama, we the audience are invited to play the part of the jury, armed with a voting device. The scene is set, a cleverly stark black set on which excellent lighting creates time and place. There it is, the story is told, prosecution and defence, and for the most part we know the real life outcome, they are found guilty and whilst the opportunity is there for the judge to pass a sentence of 10 years he actually gives them 18 months suspended.
This clever and often funny drama certainly tests the audience, do we believe they are guilty, or do the TV producers have a hand in manipulating the facts or even creating the evidence produced. It certainly opens your eyes as to how a TV game show might select contestants, their ability to win the big prize or to merely entertain. And we are given a passing glance at the impact of public opinion on the family, their children vilified, their dog kicked to death and their cat shot.
The cast of this tightly realised piece are excellent throughout, Bremner is of course very good but perhaps not given enough to do, does the real life Tarrant have so little to say? The whole does provide a marvellous platform on which Mark Benton can really shine, playing multiple roles to great comic effect.
The audience participation element is slick and works well and in the final vote it is fascinating to see how an audience has reacted, has the company managed to challenge that verdict, do we find them guilty or has the play made us think further? And how does that play out as this production tours the UK from region to region do we side with the producers or the middle class Ingrams?
The whole is fast paced, except for a rather over-long and clunky karaoke sequence that could well be shortened or even cut, and it is amusing and gently thought provoking, especially on the topic of media manipulation of the masses. But it did leave me wanting to know more, I want to know why Tarrant has so little to say!
Chichester Festival Theatre