Amongst the myriad productions to hit the New Theatre this season, Quiz Show occupies a unique space. Sharp, witty and horrifyingly relevant, Rob Drummond’s play goes to great lengths to deceive its audience, carrying them through its seemingly innocuous gameshow quirks before whipping away the façade to reveal a shocking conclusion. Shortly before Quiz Show began its run, Impact sat down with director Zoe Smith, producer Laura Wolczyk and actor Maddy Strauss (in the lead role as Sandra) to reflect on their time producing Drummond’s show within a show.
On the surface, Quiz Show is, well, a quiz show. At the opening of the play we find ourselves in a slightly garish 1970s TV studio (more on that later), the set for the hit gameshow False! As Wolczyk describes:
“The Quiz Show consists of several different rounds in which the host will say something false and the contestants have to identify that it is false and say the truth. For example, in Round One the host reads out statements which are wrong and the contestant buzzes in and says the truth.”
The winning contestant then gets to enter the mysterious Door of Truth, which lies at the back of the stage. Seems simple enough. Except, of course, there is far more to this seemingly anachronistic piece of ‘70s light entertainment than one might first expect.
“The show in front of which we are sat is in fact a horrific fantasy drawn from the fragmented memories of Sandra’s suppressed trauma”
It is Smith who first breaks the shocking twist to me, dispelling any illusions that this was just another zany student comedy. For Quiz Show is not really about brightly-lit gameshows and daytime television.
It is, in fact, about sexual abuse.
“Rob Drummond wrote the script in 2013 in response to the Jimmy Saville investigations,” she explains, referring to the wide-ranging police inquest into historical sexual abuse claims, particularly in the world of entertainment.
“Sandra is our lead character, and this whole story revolves around her experience of being abused as a child when she was on this TV show called False! But the TV show we see is not the same TV show. It is in fact her brain piecing memories back together using the template of a quiz show.”
And so it all falls into place. The entire façade of Quiz Show falls down as we discover the dark secret: that the show in front of which we are sat is in fact a horrific fantasy drawn from the fragmented memories of Sandra’s suppressed trauma.
Smith continues: “With each layer of the quiz, the questions are pulled from fragments of memories from when Sandra was on the show. For example, there’s the repetition of the number fourteen because that’s how old she was. They talk about the tradition of the Christmas tree because there was a Christmas tree in the original producer’s office.”
“So with every layer it becomes more obvious that we’re talking about a memory. It all draws together at the end, ironically as things are also breaking apart even further. It reveals to the audience just why things didn’t feel right at the start of the show.”
The spell broken Quiz Show ends with a poignant monologue from Sandra (Strauss) that places nearly every line from the show into perspective.
As Wolczyk comments: “It’s when you hear that final monologue that you realise that almost single question asked in the Quiz Show is referencing her experience of being in that quiz show.”
“For example, in the first round there’s a lot of mention of things she will talk about later, like the question about the Christmas tree,” Strauss adds. “They also have to define words like repression and denial. Once you look back from the monologue you realise that all these questions were relevant to it.”
“Quiz Show highlights the need to speak out about abuse, whether historical or not”
Wolczyk continues: “She’s piecing together why she is like this because one of the contestants on the quiz show has recently come forward and said that he knew what happened but is sorry that, because he was only fourteen, he didn’t do anything. He’s now a psychotherapist and wants to help her.”
It is the appearance of this fellow former contestant that brings the play’s message to light. More than anything, Quiz Show highlights the need to speak out about abuse, whether historical or not. Indeed it is Sandra’s suppression of her past that leads to her such a state of fragmented confusion.
“In her final monologue Sandra mentions that her relationship is falling apart, and that she can’t deal with intimacy but doesn’t know why,” Wolczyk adds, “It’s all because she’s been keeping this in.”
The change in societal attitudes is also addressed, notes Strauss. “One of the things that I found had particular impact was that in this final monologue she talks about how it wasn’t her decision to repress the memory, but came from the fact that she told her mum. Her mum said that was just what men are like.”
“As a result she’s spent the last twenty-six years repressing her feelings, failing to understand relationships and suffering panic attacks, just because of what her mum told her when she was fourteen.”
It is no surprise then that the key message the team want the audience to take away is one of speaking up against abuse, wherever it may be. Smith, who took inspiration from The Truth Project (an independent inquiry into child abuse), believes that Quiz Show addresses issues far wider than just historic cases of abuse in the 1970s.
“For me the most important take-home message isn’t just about child sexual assault. It’s about how we deal absolutely everything. By not speaking out we are always doing ourselves more damage.”
“We should never be afraid to speak up and we should be encouraging others to do so.”
Quiz Show is on at the Nottingham New Theatre 25-28 April.
Featured Image courtesy of Nottingham New Theatre.
Production photos courtesy of Zoe Smith.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised by the play, please talk to someone. Samaritans are a free phone call away on 116 123. Nottingham Nightline has an instant messaging service, or can be called on 01159514985.