THERE was an obvious problem with Rob Drummond’s clever new play Quiz Show, which finished its three-week run at the Traverse last night.
It was almost impossible to talk about the show without ruining it for people who hadn’t seen it. Result: the farcical spectacle of a leading Scottish theatre frantically lobbying potential audiences, via Twitter, not to read Quiz Show’s four and five-star reviews.
Could the critics have tried harder to avoid spoilers? Maybe. One gave away the show’s twist so blithely it was like kicking off a film review with the words “The Sixth Sense is a new supernatural chiller in which Bruce Willis plays a ghost.”
It was a tricky one, though. Quiz Show is about complicity, and the impact of its big reveal relies entirely on the audience indulging in what initially appears to be an innocent, lighthearted set-up. If you begin the play knowing it’s about a celebrity sexually abusing children, the conceit doesn’t work. But what’s the point of reviewing Quiz Show if you can’t critique what one of Scotland’s most talked about young theatre-makers has to say about one of the biggest scandals of our times?
This may expose a flaw in the play. Like The Sixth Sense, Quiz Show doesn’t really work the second time you see it, except as an exercise in spotting subtle clues you missed the first time. Take away its ingenious theatrical trickery, and what it has to say about abuse is nothing you couldn’t already read in survivors’ stories.
Hats off to Drummond, though, for writing something that not only relies on lack of prior knowledge but also discourages a second viewing. It can’t easily be revived either. Unlike, say, A Doll’s House, which has just been radically reinvented by Zinnie Harris, Quiz Show probably only works in its current form. Clearly this is a playwright fully engaged in the present rather than with one eye on posterity.
It’s ironic, in a way, that this was the first big show of Traverse’s 50th birthday season. Anniversaries are usually concerned with celebrating longevity. But I think this was a smart move on artistic director Orla O’Loughlin’s part. The slogan on the venue’s spring brochure is “Fifty Years of New” and if any show sends the message that the Traverse is more interested in the here and now than in looking back, it’s this one.
I think Drummond will write better shows (and he has another new one, The Riot Of Spring, at Tramway on 10-11 May). But already this wrestler-turned-magician-turned-quizmaster is shaping up – if I can get away with this – as the David Bowie of Scottish theatre, always changing, always intensely in the moment.