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.