Writer Alison Carr wanted to create something that audiences don’t just sit and watch – they become part of it. The result was The Last Quiz Night On Earth – a quiz night AND the world is about to end. She talks to Quays Life about creating high stakes theatre that’s fun but certainly not fluffy.
What inspired you to write The Last Quiz Night On Earth?
Alison: “The idea of a quiz night kept popping into my head but I’d dismiss it because I was worried it’d been done too often before. So I kept plugging away and overcomplicating things, until eventually I thought okay, lean into it – a quiz night AND what? A quiz night AND the world is about to end. It all opened up from there and a quiz night became the only way to tell this story. It brings so much to explore like togetherness and community, comradery, competitiveness. Throw into the mix an asteroid heading straight for us, and the stakes get higher. It’s the final chance to say the unsaid, heal rifts, get the last word, make peace with regrets or try to do something about them”.
How does the play fit in with your previous work?
Alison: “There are elements there like a fractious sibling relationship, and having something quite extreme or unexpected going on. But overall it’s quite a departure, especially the characters’ interaction with the audience.
“My jumping off point was to write something fun. Around the time I got the call from Box of Tricks Theatre Company I’d been researching a lot of serious, dark material for other plays I was writing. It takes its toll. So when Hannah (Tyrrell-Pinder, Director) got in touch my first thoughts were ‘yes please’ and ‘for my own well-being, it’s got to be fun’.
“Plus I always want to be challenging myself, not trotting out the same-old, same-old. And just like ‘dark’ doesn’t mean humourless or hard-going, ‘fun’ certainly doesn’t equal something fluffy or meaningless. It is the end of the world, after all”.
How did you get into writing?
Alison: “I wrote my first play at school – a version of Cluedo (don’t sue me Hasbro). I directed it too, and played Mrs Peacock. I clearly had delusions of grandeur. I’d forgotten about that until I went to answer this question, and I was going to say I had my first stab at writing a play for my University’s theatre society. I directed that one too, but wasn’t in it. So I was gradually lessening my megalomaniac tendencies.
“After I graduated I kept writing around jobs. I wrote a comedy called Patricia Quinn Saved
My Life. It was all very daft but I could let loose because I never thought it’d see the light of
day. It got picked up by a company for the Edinburgh Fringe and became my first
professional production. It went down really well and made me think maybe I had
something and I could keep going”.
How does it feel to see your work on the stage?
Alison: “It’s amazing and terrifying. I don’t write for the love of sitting at my desk for hours, tearing my hair out over structure and dialogue. I write to have it made, for the joy of being in a rehearsal room and being part of the process of it coming to life.
“I love the shared experience of theatre. That I get to be in the same space as the audience
and that we are all breathing the same air as the characters on stage as the events unfold in front of us. It’s incredible and such a privilege. I often end up watching the audience
watching the play.
“That said, it’s also sick-to-my-stomach nerve wracking. What if the audience don’t like it, it isn’t clear, they don’t laugh, they’re bored, they leave disappointed? All of that keeps me
awake at night”.
Which playwrights inspired you?
Alison: “Victoria Wood was, is, and will always be my biggest inspiration. Her voice is so distinctive, and so Northern. She’s why I tried writing anything in the first place. She brought joy to so many and achieved so much.
“I’ll always try and see any Edward Albee or Tennessee Williams plays I can – they’re so big
and fearless. Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane is one of my favourite
plays. Lee Hall, Bryony Lavery, Zinnie Harris, Annie Baker, Debbie Tucker Green…
“Having said all that, I’m not so much a fan of particular playwrights as I am plays and
theatre in general – I try and see as much theatre as I can in the North East and beyond”.
What was the best bit of advice you were given when you started out?
Alison: “I can’t remember the exact quote, but the gist was ‘you need to take yourself seriously as a writer’. I think it was a confidence thing. I was reluctant to jump in with both feet cos what if people didn’t like what I was writing or it turned out I actually wasn’t very good. If I kept it all at arm’s length and didn’t invest too much, then it couldn’t hurt me. But ultimately you have to give it your all – at least I do. So I try to take my work seriously but not myself”.
What is next for you?
Alison: “I’m lucky that some of my projects that were paused due to the lockdown are now starting to remerge. One play idea that was in its earliest days, the company and I have totally scrapped and started again with – so that’s beginning to find its feet. And I’m well underway on a new play I was approached to write in the middle of last year. I’m a different writer than I was when theatres shut down in 2019 and I hope I can keep moving forward and keep making work that I love”.
How does it feel having The Last Quiz Night on Earth come back?
Alison: “I’m delighted! Like all the plays that had to close in March 2019, it was very abrupt and it’s felt like unfinished business ever since. Kathy, Rav, Fran and Bobby are characters who have been in my life for so long now, and I’m excited to hang out with them again. Plus I’ve written a brand new quiz for the show – so if you saw it before, you can come back and take part all over again!”
Finally, why should people come to see The Last Quiz Night On Earth?
Alison: “Well, there’s a quiz – a real one. You don’t have to be good at quizzes (I’m not) or, if you are, great – come and show off. And when you’re not trying to remember which British city hosted the 1970 Commonwealth Games, there’s a story unfolding around you about family and regrets and last chances.
“I wouldn’t want anyone other than Box of Tricks making The Last Quiz Night On
Earth. Their work is never pretentious or intimidating, it’s welcoming and warm and a good night out. What better way to spend the apocalypse?!”
Read our review of the show at Derby Brewery Arms earlier in the tour.