Rory Bremner’s long career beginning as an impressionist, then popular comedian and actor, combines all three talents in his portrayal of the redoubtable Chris Tarrant hosting the nation’s favourite quiz show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire. And not just any episode, the one in which shock horror the willey Coughing Major was accused of cheating; did he do it, that’s the million-pound question? There was never a clear answer to the mystery despite the convictions of the Major, his wife and accomplice which is all part of the fun for the play.
It’s set as a courtroom drama, interspersed with the backdrop of the studio at the programme; Rory Bremner is superb as Chris Tarrant, he’s got his walk, his mannerisms and of course his catch phrase – “but we don’t want to give you that” to show it’s back in the day when even cheques for a million pounds could be passed over and banked with ease. The admirable Mark Benton plays a variety of roles, the best being Paddy Spooner, the head of The Syndicate, a group of fans of the show who gather tips of how to get on the game and what to do to win. Charley Webb is great as Diana Ingram, the manipulating woman behind the duffer, her husband Charles Ingram, whose nice but dim military character is brought out perfectly by Lewis Reeves. Jay Taylor plays Diana’s hapless brother Adrian, who started it all off with a love of pub quizzes, and Marc Antolin as Tecwen Whittock, the man responsible for the coughs, adopts a great shouty Welsh accent worthy of the man himself. Stefan Adegbola as Paul Smith, the Celador producer who risked his own money pitching the game show illustrates how this may have biased him towards thinking that cheating took place.
Where the whispering of cheating started in the backroom of the crew of the programme Sukh Ojla plays multiple roles to great effect; Danielle Henry stands out as Sonia Woodley QC for the defence and Leo Wringer as QC for the prosecution although in the end as we know neither win conclusively as the defendants received suspended sentences.
It’s a great story, much worth telling again, and the show is quite riveting; you even get issued with your own keypad to vote as the audience just like in the real Who Wants to be a Millionaire! We came away feeling quite sorry for the Ingrams and not really convinced that cheating was intended; if it wasn’t they paid a heavy price for their foray into the world of TV games.