The "coughing major" comes to the stage...

To Gavin Spokes falls the task of stepping into the shoes of someone he has met, Charles Ingram, the infamous coughing major convicted of cheating on the TV quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Gavin is playing him in James Graham's new play Quiz in Chichester's Minerva Theatre (November 3-December 9).

Gavin Spokes (Charles Ingram) in rehearsal for Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Quiz. Photo Johan Persson
Gavin Spokes (Charles Ingram) in rehearsal for Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Quiz. Photo Johan Persson

“It was certainly interesting,” says Gavin. “It was quite informal meeting him and his wife. I think they knew they were among friends. The play is based on a book (Bad Show: The Quiz, the Cough, the Millionaire Major by Bob Woffinden and James Plaskett) which throws up a lot of questions about the case, about the trial and about how people are judged and the facts. They have had a pretty hard life. It has all been absolutely horrible for them. But he is nice. He is very eccentric and very bright. He does go off on little tangents, but he is very amiable and very confident, but there is that classic English thing of being slightly eccentric, but in the best possible way.”

So was Gavin looking at him and assessing how best to play him?

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“Most of what we need comes from the script. I have got to just try to get the essence of him. I think the man he is now is very different to the man he was then. I think he is now more measured and considered about what he is saying to people. He is aware that he is being judged as a convicted cheat, but actually all he was trying to do was to win the million pounds.”

So is he innocent then?

Gavin declines to say, not – he is quick to add – for any reasons of being supportive or unsupportive towards the ex-major. It is much more a question of letting the audience make up its own mind based on the play that unfurls. Part of the interest of the piece is also its structure: “We dart back in time a lot. We do quite a lot of flashbacks. We replay scenes from different perspectives. It has basically a chronological journey, but the way the story is told is really quite different.”

And the great thing is that this is new writing. Quiz comes from playwright James Graham whose hit play This House transferred to the West End following sell-out runs during Festival 2016 and at the National Theatre. Graham’s other work for theatre in the UK and US, and on screen, includes The Vote, Finding Neverland, Privacy, Coalition and X+Y.

“I think James Graham is such a brilliant writer. Everything he writes is theatrical gold. It is just so well written, so well structured. The characters are very clear and clever, and to be the first actors to explore the play is a real privilege and a pleasure.”

For Gavin, Quiz will also be his first time in Chichester: “I have never been to Chichester before. I was supposed to do Guys & Dolls here, but then they changed the dates and I couldn’t. I did One Man, Two Guv’nors instead.”