How would you spend your last night on earth? Kathy, a 40-something pub landlady, has elected to host a quiz night. There’s no guarantee anyone will attend – but they do. As we take our seats in The Four Horseman pub, a muffled Orwellian radio announcement plays as if on a loop: “This is not a test…”
Earth is about to be hit by an asteroid and the collision is approximately two hours away. The whole evening is like an inverse New Year’s Eve count down; where instead of celebrating the birth of a new year we’re marking the end of civilisation as we know it.
Kathy (Meriel Scholfield) is a war weary, glass half-full character who has fought hard to get what she has. It’s not much in monetary terms but she’s carved out a niche for herself – she is, it’s said the ‘Queen of her castle’. Kathy’s smart wit and cheeky demeaner guides us through the evening, acting as a bridge between us (the audience) and Rav, Bobby and Fran, the other characters in the piece (played by Shaban Dar, Chris Jack and Amy Drake).
The play is a well-executed piece of drama that is forged seamlessly around an actual quiz, played out real-time where we are participants. Alcohol is flowing and on our tables are quiz answer sheets (with five rounds of questions) and blue biros. This is made all the more real by the earthy quality of Alison Carr’s dialogue; essentially, it’s so well-honed that you almost forget you’re watching a play.
The decision to set the show in a real-life pub really works. There’s a portable stereo on the bar and a wall of tinsel by the host – everything one needs for a quiz night.
In between each quiz round, snippets of the character’s lives are slowly exposed and intriguingly nothing is as it seems. Our quiz master, ‘host with most’ is Rav. Dressed in black sequinned blazer and red trousers, what he doesn’t know about enthusiasm isn’t worth knowing.
Rav’s life is turned upside down when Fran, a girl he asked out when they were aged 15 (10 years ago), appears at the pub wishing to give love a go, one last time. Fran is a fast talking and infectiously funny character played deftly so as to, at one moment, have the audience laughing and the next moment close to tears with sadness.
Kathy’s life, on this fateful night, also takes an unexpected turn when her brother Bobby turns up, ostensibly to encourage her to come with him to escape the impeding asteroid. They’ve not seen each other for decades, Bobby having decided to distance himself from the family home in order to better himself. Cleverly, the development of this relationship is given equal weight to the Fran/Rav relationship.
‘The Last Quiz Night on Earth’, successfully holds up a mirror to human emotions and frailties; in a short window of time it shows the lasting impact of decisions made long ago, and does this so gracefully you sometimes forget an asteroid is plummeting towards earth. That is until Fran cries out, ‘Aren’t any of you scared?’ and we’re quickly forced to refocus.
With an excellent blend of humour, pathos and quiz-mastery this is a good story, well told. It is a gem of a show. The only question remaining is how would you spend your last night on earth?★ ★ ★ ★
The Last Quiz Night on Earth from Box of Tricks is at The Welcome Inn, Salford from 11-15 February 2020. See website for full tour details. Tickets are available from The Lowry. Please note that this show as an age restriction of 14+ and anyone under 18-years-old must be accompanied by an adult (due to the pub location).