Quiz Night At The Britannia

Welcome to the regular Thursday evening Quiz Night at the Britannia pub! A new play by Stuart Lee.
Copa, Wed 15th - Fri June 17th 2011 and back for another run June 2012

June 14, 2012

Do you know who won the Derby in 1992 or which politician made the memorable quote about lies, damn lies and statistics?  If you did and a smug smile crossed your lips or you were driven to look it up because you thought you should know then this play is for you. Set in the fictitious Britannia pub (and mind don’t go to the actual one in Headington by mistake) Quiz Night at the Britannia explores the British love of a pub quiz, happy even in the face of complete ignorance and weekly ignominy. To increase the enjoyment the audience take part, as actual teams competing in a real quiz.

This is a site specific piece, in the function room of the Copa pub. Brenda the barmaid is ever cheerful in the face of crude bar fixture Tommy (played very engagingly by Steve Hay), and his equally clueless sidekick Joe. Just down the road is the Crosby enquiry into the Government’s road building scheme (shades of the Leveson frequently haunt this topical script), which brings into the scruffy bar two spin-doctors Ruth and Stephen, slumming it to plot the demise of a hapless minister. They too get sucked into playing the quiz along in between watching news clips of the enquiry, getting endless updates on their mobiles, and listening to a recording of their prey frolicking with a prostitute.

With references to phone hacking, budget cuts, and the influence of America on everyday politics this is a play which mourns the loss of the small pleasures in life to the interests of big institutions. The script works best when exploring the very human concerns of the locals, and is laugh out loud funny. It needs some finessing when it attempts to make broader political points.

The performances are spot on and special mention must also go to Sarah Wilkins as the warm-hearted Brenda, Lucy Hoult as the spiky Ruth and Ruth Curtis, the quiz mistress who has to juggle scripted lines alongside audience interaction and does so with great charm.

Greene King Brewery, who manages the Copa, needs to get its finger out. The pub trade needs all the help it can get and publicising these once weekly performances in the bar, and perhaps outside for passing trade would boost their beer sales. Ironic that a play all about the demise of that great British institution – the local – should find itself in a public house that is fighting shy of promoting it.

You can catch this quiz night every Thursday at 8pm throughout the summer. It’s a good night out.

June 19, 2011
Quiz Night at the Britannia is now finished. But if in future if you see anything by the writer is Stuart Lee then go along. If you don’t, you’ll miss a script bursting with originality, verve and insight – whatever the genre.

This particular vehicle for Stuart’s talents was a comedy. For its success – which was great, judging by the enthusiastic applause at the end – a deft script might have been enough but the words were enhanced by splendid acting, not least from Steve Hay (as Tommy) and Hannah Morrell (Brenda).

So – what was Quiz Night actually about? Well, it consisted of a quiz, set against a series of background squabbles and crises: Brenda with her battles against brewery changes; Tommy, Joe and Berne fighting the Faceless Bureaucrats and all the time there is a Public Inquiry in the new hotel round the corner. Back-handers…and politicians, the Big Society and Coalition Government (with its record 12 U-turns so far). This was a very human drama set against the comedy that is politics.

For me, the most impressive part was the very fast interplay of the actors. Here’s a very short sample:
Ruth: [Into phone] I know I know. The PM is the least of our worries. It’s if they ask the Transport Secretary to take the stand. He’s a total …
Stephen: Lemon. [Pause] In the G and T. [Gestures to drinks which Brenda is pouring.]
This sentence completion, the rapid switch from one couple talking to someone on the phone, to someone else bemoaning the Coalition – that’s what made the play.

Another good point was that even when actors were not speaking they still behaved as customers in the run-down pub. So action was happening all the time. The setting (Copa Bar) added to the reality. Excellent work – well-directed by Tania Higgins – and a credit to all involved.

Quiz Night is the Britannia is a very pleasant way to spend a Thursday evening. It's a play set in a pub, centred around its weekly quiz night, which is performed in a pub, with a live quiz for both performers and audience, moving cleverly between us and them.

The cast were uniformly good, no false notes or over-acting (which would have been easy in the venue). There was lots of humour, Guardian-reader satire, and convincing pathos about the demise of the traditional British pub.

Well, that last bit had me wondering, the Britannia actually seemed to be an example of the foul side of British pubs but no matter.

I wish my table had won the quiz - the prize was from the Fudge Kitchen and looked yummy.

Catch one of the remaining performances in August if you can. Stuart Lee's done an excellent job with this play.

This is a very different production from the original showing last year when the play was performed at OxFRINGE. Now the audience takes part in the play, or is that the quiz, or is that the play? Director Tania Higgins has brought her creative talents to this comedy about a pub on the verge of closure, as the regulars attempt to hold things together by partaking in the only thing that presents a rock of stability - the regular quiz night. Interweaved throughout each scene is a real quiz that the audience takes part in for real prizes whilst at the same time watching the funny, sad, mischievous regulars of The Britannia take on the faceless bureaucrats of Government advisers and spin doctors. But who will win? Showing all summer each Thursday at the Copa Bar (upstairs).

Stuart Lee's play offers a very different night out. If you have an old-fashioned mind set of 'going to the theatre to be entertained', you will enjoy it as a thought-provoking look at the demise of much of our pub culture. If, however, you like the pub quiz and a great night out with friends, the evening will really take off and you'll become fully involved.

The upstairs bar of the Copa has been used to its best potential by the talented Tania Higgins. She has directed a competent set of actors, too. Principally, Steve Hay gives another thoughtful and multi-layered performance as the wise-cracking regular, Tommy. Sarah Wilkins, as the troubled Brenda, hostess of the 'Brittania' provides him with a brilliant foil. Their duologues are rich in humour.

So, too are Lucy Hoult and Adie Gargan, who play middle class toffs with huge energy, fun and enough integrity to avoid caricature. It is a very entertaining evening which many more may enjoy each Thursday at the Copa at eight. You may even win the quiz prize. Not many theatre experiences offer that!

This was fun. A thought provoking play combined with a pub quiz, involving the audience. The plot revolves around the pub regulars who turn up every week for the quiz night, each with their own story and problems.

A small confession. I noticed that it was at Copa in George Street only at the last minute. I very nearly went to the eponymous pub in Headington.

I wonder whether there'll be a fresh set of quiz questions at each performance?

A really fun and different type of theatre - a play about a pub quiz night where the audience is part of the play and also gets to do a quiz. And it works! Gathering pace as the evening went on, it is Steve Hay's performance as the rough layabout that really moves the audience at the end.

If you want a great night out that's a bit different - go for this.

Quiz Night at the Britannia was original, interesting and very entertaining. All actors gave wonderful performances, in particular Steve Hay as Tommy was excellent. The dialogue was a thought-provoking and a timely assessment of political ideals - big society - and how it impacts on the individual.

The story is presented in a staccato of short scenes all in the same setting, the pub, jumping from various crises affecting the characters each in his/her own way. The authentic setting of the Copa Bar enhanced the performance considerably. Although genuinely funny – I laughed lots – the play was at times quite sad as it was very easy to identify with the plight of the characters. You empathise with them and imagine what will become of them after the play has finished and the adjustments they will have to make. All in all very entertaining but also plenty to think and talk about after the laughing stops.
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