The Lowry at The Welcome Inn, Salford.
News that an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, would undoubtedly focus the mind. Whether, as the end of the world approaches, most people would choose to channel that heightened state of mental alertness into pondering some trivia questions down the pub is certainly open to debate. Especially if your local happens to be called The Four Horsemen. Still, that’s exactly where we find ourselves, and we can only hope that ‘Quizmaster General’ Rav delivers on his promise that this will be his best Quiz Night ever.
When Rav declares it’s time to “get quizzical“, he’s not joking. All the familiar elements are present and correct, including a prize for the best team name, the swapping-papers-with-your-neighbours-for-marking routine, and the roll call of final scores.
However, Rav’s questions aren’t the only ones taking centre stage. Who are those two unexpected visitors? Will the world really come to an end? And where did Rav get that sparkly jacket? You might come prepared for brain teasers on Television, Sport and General Knowledge but you’ll also gain an insight into topics such as Family Fallouts and Lingering Teenage Crushes.
Landlady Kathy (Meriel Scholfield) is a friendly yet formidable presence, making everyone feel welcome while keeping the pub and the evening’s proceedings firmly on track. Her friend Rav (Shaban Dar) may be more prone to flights of fancy but he takes the planning of his quiz very seriously, even treating us, with the help of Kathy’s old CD player, to a carefully chosen cheesy tune at the start of each round.
Box of Tricks have form with staging immersive theatre in unusual spaces. Four years ago I found myself tucking into a tasty chippy supper at a community centre a few streets away from tonight’s venue courtesy of their production of Becky Prestwich’s Chip Shop Chips.
Much-lauded, the show went on to tour extensively, and that experience must have proved invaluable in developing The Last Quiz Night on Earth. It’s incredibly cohesive, with the story, quiz, and audience interaction blending together with deceptive ease.
While not a relaxed performance with a capital R, there’s a very informal feel to the evening. Everyone is sat around small tables, their drinks, pens and answer papers close at hand. Even the tricky business of shifting attention back from the quiz to dramatic goings-on is handled without fuss. If a few over-enthusiastic quizzers take a little longer than expected to finalise their answers, like the muffled chatter and occasional chink of pots from the adjacent bar, it adds to the atmosphere rather than distracts.
Designer Katie Scott gives the venue a subtle lift, suspending several strings of small light bulbs overhead to add a warm glow, and a gold tinsel curtain draws our attention to Rav’s ‘stage’ area.
With cheerful charm Scholfield’s Kathy and Dar’s Rav keep everything moving along nicely, even creating a supporting cast of (non-speaking) characters around them with the help of the audience. For a few brief moments, someone will be Bren who has her eye on Kathy’s brother, or Shirl who is a bit too fond of querying Rav’s answers, or Shelley who does hot yoga once a week despite being “not very bendy“. It’s all done with the lightest of touches as, over the course of the evening, Kathy’s customers gradually coalesce into her local community.
The arrival of the landlady’s estranged brother Bobby (Chris Jack) after a 20-year absence and an unexpected visit from Rav’s childhood girlfriend Fran (Amy Drake) cause some lively and heartfelt complications. With time seemingly running out, deeply held hopes, painful regrets and festering resentments spill out, and people want answers to the sort of questions that begin with ‘what if’ and ‘why’.
As Kathy, Scholfield anchors the piece with a wonderfully rounded performance. She and Jack skilfully ramp up the emotional intensity when needed to offer some genuinely affecting moments as the brother and sister trying to settle their differences. Meanwhile, Dar and Drake generate most of the laughter, with two very funny performances, he fussing over the quiz’s every last detail, she frantically wrestling with her feelings.
Alison Carr’s full-of-life script serves up some gentle home truths alongside the humour. With its energetic staging and engaging performances, the show’s two hours fly by. Generating a defiantly feel-good force field, The Last Quiz Night on Earth is primed to hold the worries of the world (imaginary or otherwise) at bay.
The Last Quiz Night on Earth is touring until 11 April 2020.
Performance seen on 13 February 2020.
Images by Alex Mead Decoy Media