Calling a play ‘The Last Quiz Night on Earth’ is asking for trouble. The latest from Manchester based new writing company, Box of Tricks was originally scheduled two years ago, but a global pandemic put the kibosh on a planned tour. Alison Carr’s bitter-sweet comedy now arrives as another global catastrophe unfolds, with Russian president Vladimir Putin looking to start World War Three. Well, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and a show about the end of the entire human race couldn’t be more topical.
Many companies have gone to the wall since Covid 19, so respect to Box of Tricks for their tenacity in getting this show together again. ‘Last Quiz’ is touring to 17 (mostly) pub venues throughout the North West and into Yorkshire, until early April. The premise is a simple one: an asteroid is heading straight for the earth, and there’s no chance of diversion. Landlady Kathy (Meriel Schofield, a charismatic presence) decides to go out with a bang. Kathy was born for pub life: ‘I came out of the womb pulling a pint.’ She asks quizmaster Rav (Matthew Khan) to host one final quiz, for old times sake. Just a regular night down the local, until two unexpected guests turn up out of the blue: Kathy’s estranged brother Bobby (Chris Hoyle) has some scores to settle; old flame Fran (Tilly Sutcliffe) wants one last shot at love. ‘I’m glad it’s an asteroid – it’s the kick I needed’, she says to Rav. Fran is still in love with Rav, ten years after their relationship ended. He’s less impressed: ‘We were just kids.’ Besides, he’s not into girls anymore (the leopard skin pants are a giveaway). ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe is the opening song, and the clock is ticking: Have these mixed up crazy Northerners got enough time to set things right?
There’s audience participation in the form of the quiz itself: five rounds including sport, flags and outer space. Pub theatre is a great leveller, as are quizzes, and people are encouraged to join with strangers, and make up a team. Director Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder has created a fluid piece of theatre, and the actors work hard to segue from the story to the quiz and back.
Some sense of disbelief is required because what ‘Last Quiz’ lacks is a sense of urgency. Secrets are revealed, truths are spoken but everyone is a bit too laid back, given what’s at stake. Occasionally it feels like Carr needs to add another layer of detail. Philip Ridley’s apocalyptic themed ‘Mercury Fur’ ended with a powerful soundscape (aeroplanes, bombs, fire.) Not quite necessary here but a countdown, and a few concise radio bulletins – conveying a sense what’s going on in the world outside – would help ratchet up the tension, and give the ending a bigger emotional wallop.
‘My biggest regret?’ says Kathy. ‘I wish I’d had more sex … and pudding’ (Carr has a knack for sharp one-liners). There are moments of pathos, particularly when the bloke-ish Bobby takes off his gruff mask, and reveals that his life has taken a major wrong turn. The final image of the play is a powerful one: all four characters holding hands, eyes closed, as the asteroid finally hits. Imagine a cross between the film ‘Deep Impact’ and TV comedy ‘Early Doors’, and that should give you an idea of the tone of this show. ‘Last Quiz’ doesn’t quite qualify as a newly minted classic, but does make for a hugely entertaining night down the boozer.