Quiz Show, on at the Traverse in Edinburgh, is a comitragedy which asks the wrong questions, writes Mark Brown.
Of all the questions posed by acclaimed Scottish dramatist Rob Drummond’s latest play Quiz Show, perhaps the most unanswerable is why, in the midst of its 50th anniversary celebrations, Scotland’s new writing theatre, the Traverse, is staging such a terrible piece of work.
Another is just how the creator of the deservedly lauded Bullet Catch (which opens in London at the National Theatre’s temporary venue, The Shed, next month) could have come to write a drama as clumsy and misconceived as this.
Set on a glitzy Scottish TV game show entitled False!, in which contestants are required to replace false statements with true ones, Quiz Show is not so much a tragicomedy as a comitragedy, such is the generic order of the 90-minute play’s two very distinct halves. In the first, the quiz show format is satirised, often with tremendous humour; Jonathan Watson’s host, Daniel Caplin, is a squeakily unpleasant standout in a fine cast.
It is not to spoil Drummond’s volte-face at the end of “part one” (he prefers to structure his play in the language of the TV show, rather than that of the stage drama) to say that we move rapidly from televisual hyper-realism into psychodrama. Once there, inside the memory-repressing mind of one-time contestant Sandra, the play slows down considerably, as it begins to reveal itself as a drama about the sexual abuse of children by a prominent TV personality. Any similarities, and there are many, to the allegations against the late Jimmy Savile would seem to be abundantly intentional.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with a playwright stepping into this horribly topical subject, as long as he does so with sensitivity and creativity. Sadly, despite his palpably good intentions, Drummond does not.
Long before the play’s excruciatingly redundant conclusion (a long, revelatory and polemical speech by Sandra), one has pieced together a picture of abuse, cover-up, collusion, isolation, mental and emotional anguish, and, finally, anger; all of which should be obvious to any intelligent and sensitive person who has paid any attention to the recent, appalling catalogue of testimonies from people claiming to have been abused by Savile. In these days, when British society is at an important crossroads where child sexual abuse is concerned, this heavy-handed play tells us nothing we don’t already know from the brave testimony of the victims.
Until April 20. http://www.traverse.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on April 3, 2013
© Mark Brown