Theatre review: The Quiz at the End of the World, Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Adam Lowe

I was lucky enough to catch Box of Tricks theatre company’s new UK tour of The Quiz at the End of the World when it hit Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre.

Alison Carr’s show is part-game show and part-play, with the audience taking part as pub patrons who compete in a quiz while the world ends from imminent asteroid impact. The show is set to tour the UK countryside (an important detail) in pubs, community centres and village halls.

The set-up is simple: landlady Kathy welcomes everyone into her pub, while quizmaster Rav delivers the questions. Other characters (including Kathy’s brother Bobby and Rav’s high school sweetheart Fran) pop up to create drama in between the different rounds and the audience gets to be competitive by testing their general knowledge in the quiz.

Shaban Dar as Rav gets all the best lines. Photo © Alex Mead Decoy Media.

The set-up

Let me start by saying that the show is perfectly designed for its forthcoming rural tour: the cabaret-style seating, the old fashioned pub bar and the simple lighting keep it portable and organic. It feels like it would work in any of the spaces its likely to tour, and its quiz-show format keeps it relatively laidback and accessible.

This doesn’t feel like ‘theatre’ as the lay audience might imagine it – all Shakespeare and cod-pieces – but rather as something they can relate to: a simple pub quiz down at their local.

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This is important because, for the most part, the audience probably won’t be what we’d consider a traditional theatre crowd.

In some respects, the Manchester crowd was a bit different, because it was a traditional theatre crowd. I wonder if actually playing in a pub would create a different experience?

Amy Drake as Fran gets the most character development. Photo © Alex Mead Decoy Media.

How it went on the night

I caught the show early in its tour. As such, some of the performances were a little less polished than they could have been. The actors clearly have some skill and talent, but the switching between scripted and improvised performance could be a little unseemly, and not all of the actors seemed to have settled into this duality in the script.

A part of me wondered whether, rather than actors, comedians would have been better equipped to constantly adjust and renegotiate their performances with the wild card of an interactive live audience. It’s a tricky task, certainly, and I think it buys the actors a degree of goodwill from the audience as a result.

I have it on good authority that Meriel Schofield is an excellent actor, and her role is potentially the hardest, since she has to hold the whole show together. Meriel put in a sterling effort and was convincing throughout, though more could be done to bring out some of the uniqueness of her character (at present she’s pretty much your stereotypical landlady – a problem with the script, perhaps, rather than the actor).

Amy Drake gets the most interesting material to play with. Her sub-plot with high school sweetheart Rav gives her story some emotional weight, although it comes startlingly out of the blue, and everyone at our table felt it seemed too jarring. But by the second half, she really gets to develop her character, and puts in the best performance of the night.

Chris Jack also has a meatier role than the two leads: his story of great expectations and personal failure are quite moving, and Chris gives the part his all.

Shaban Dar’s Rav is perhaps the least interesting of the characters, but his role is also the most clearly defined. He’s the quiz master, full of razzle-dazzle and a killer sequinned jacket. The twist with Fran is a little rushed and more could be done with that story. Rav does get all the best jokes, though.

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The quiz element is a nice touch. I have seen about three plays in the last year with a quiz show format but each has been unique in its own way. The idea of everyone gathering together in a pub at the end of the world is a safe one but it’s also very familiar, and bound to put the audience at ease in their role as willing participants. (If you’ve ever watched a soap opera, you’ll easily recognise the setting of The Quiz at the End of the World.)

The questions themselves ranged from the fiendishly difficult to easy, but we were still thrilled when our table won on the night. That competitive element keeps the audience engaged and thinking throughout, and transforms the play from a passive experience to an active one. It works a lot, and is why you should see the show, even if the story isn’t your thing.

Occasionally we did want the drama to hurry up so we could get back to answering the questions – but maybe that’s a sign of our competitive streak more than anything else!

Chris Jack as Bobby has a moving story. Photo © Alex Mead Decoy Media.

The verdict

Overall, The Quiz at the End of the World is a fun night out. The competitive element adds a nice twist and another level to the enjoyment.

The script is a bit lax in places and the direction could do with some tightening up, to bring the best out of the actors, but if you don’t think about it too much and just go with it, it’s a very entertaining night out with broad appeal.

More information

The tour opened at the Welcome Inn in Salford, in association with The Lowry, where it played to sell-out audiences, and runs until Saturday 11 April 2020.

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The unique production is being staged in unusual spaces including village halls, community arts centres and local pubs as well as more traditional theatre venues.

The Last Quiz Night on Earth stars RADA-trained TV actress Meriel Scholfield as pub landlady Kathy, Shaban Dar as quizmaster Rav, and Chris Jack and Amy Drake as unexpected guests Bobby and Fran.

The show is produced by Box Of Tricks Theatre Company, directed by Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder and designed by Katie Scott. Associate producer is Max Emmerson.

Playwright Alison Carr received critical acclaim for her plays Caterpillar and Iris, and her play Tuesday has been commissioned for the National Theatre’s 2020 Connections programme.

Listings

Running time approximately 120 minutes including interval.
Age guidance 14+

Calder Vale Village Hall
Friday 6 March, 7.30pm
Tickets: £12.50

Longton Victory Memorial Club
Saturday 7 March, 7.30pm
Tickets: £12/10

Bank Top Tavern (in association with Oldham Coliseum & Live@Thelibrary)
Monday 16 March – Tuesday 17 March 2020, 7.30pm
Tickets: £10

New Hampton Arts Centre
Wednesday 18 March, 7.30pm
Tickets: £8/7

Thimblemill Library
Thursday 19 March, 8pm
Tickets: £8

Pocklington Arts Centre
Friday 20 March 2020

Northwich Memorial Court
Saturday 21 March 2020

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
Tuesday 24 March – Wednesday 25 March 2020, 7.30pm
Tickets: from £10

Great Whittington Village Hall
Thursday 26 March, 7.30pm
Tickets: £12/10

Hamsterley Village Hall
Friday 27 March, 7.30pm
Tickets: £8/4

Helsington & Brigsteer Village Hall
Saturday 28 March, 7.30pm
Tickets: £12/6

Arnside Education Centre
Thursday 26 March, 7.30pm
Tickets: sold out

The Burntwood Pub, Buckley (in association with Theatr Clwyd)
Tuesday 31 March – Wednesday 1 April 2020, 7pm
Tickets: £10

Gawsworth Village Hall
Friday 3 April, 7.30pm

Goostrey Village Hall
Saturday 4 April, 7.30pm

Mollington and Backford District Village Hall
Sunday 5 April, 6.30pm

The Two Tubs
Tuesday 7 April, 7.30pm
Tickets: £13

Radcliff Market
Wednesday 8 April, 7.30pm
Tickets: £13

Ramsbottom Civic Hall
Thursday 9 April, 7.30pm
Tickets: £13

The Dukes, Lancaster
Friday 10 April – Saturday 11 April 2020