The case of the coughing Major - the contestant who was convicted of conspiring with two others to defraud the producers of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” by cheating - could have remained a curious footnote in quiz show history, but this play does more than ask us to re-live that episode - it requires the audience to sit in judgment of the accused.
On entering the auditorium it would be easy to conclude from the illuminated cube of the stage and gaudy testcard displayed on multiple screens, that you have entered the Millionaire TV studio, but Robert Jones’s expansive set also doubles as a courtroom. Through the prosecution evidence delivered in the first half (by an overzealous QC played by Paul Bazely) and the defence rebuttal in the second (convincingly presented by Sonia Woodward), we get to know Major Charles Ingram (Gavin Spokes) and the impact the accusation has on both he and his wife Diana (Stephanie Street).
But the play directed at a brisk pace by Daniel Evans, is not simply a sombre courtroom story. One particularly zany section requires Keir Charles (in the guise of various game show hosts) to transport us through a history of television quizzing, leading directly to his played-for-laughs, mannerism-heavy portrayal of Chris Tarrant whose question delivery and suspenseful moments (created by his now trademark pregnant pauses and flinches) are projected in close-up. This spectacle seemed to generate much hilarity, although this reviewer felt the joke was in danger of being overplayed. That aside, the depiction of actual events, (both court case testimonies and recorded quiz show episode), together with other well-researched revelations make this an informative as well as entertaining show.
The major irony of the production, is that it exploits to good effect the exact same concern that James Graham is asking us to consider - namely, in a world obsessed with fake news, that grey area which exists between entertainment and the murky area of presenting factual data out of context or in a fabricated and misleading environment. With our judiciary constantly under threat of external pressure (from the media and publicity hungry politicians), the independence of our justice system is in danger of being unduly influenced, compromised and undermined, posing threats to society which should concern us all. Theatregoers aren’t required to degenerate into a baying lynch mob intent on exacting public retribution, but there are moments requiring audience participation via press button devices which can induce feelings of culpability and responsibility for the outcome. Something to consider when you next find yourself expressing a vehement opinion of a breaking news story where all the facts have yet to be revealed.