The Coughing Major is back on the Chichester stage in Quiz scandal
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After all, as he says, the question of the guilt or otherwise of Charles Ingram, aka the Coughing Major, and his accomplices is still such a huge talking point for people. Ingram and his wife Diana were accused of duping the world’s most popular TV quiz show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire out of £1,000,000 more than 20 years ago. And yet, as James says, mention it to anyone now, and they are still likely to scurry off to YouTube or various blogs to find out more to help them make up their own mind.
“We premiered in Chichester before we went to the West End in 2018 and I just loved it. It's always the case that when you're doing a new play you really don't know how it is going to be with the audience, how they're going to take to it. Obviously you have your hopes and your expectations and you surround yourself with the best and the most talented people but it is always really nerve-racking but it went really well and since then it has been turned into a TV drama which was shown during the lockdowns, I think in 2020.
“So basically it is a huge relief when it works and I think we knew that this one worked as soon as the audience came in and I think people are still just as compelled by the scandal now as they were then. Famously his appearance on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was just the night before 9/11 happened.”
Part of the success of the play, James reckons, back in Chichester in 2017 was the degree of audience interactivity which it introduced – “but safe, non-cringey participation,” James stresses: “The audience had keypads and they voted in the interval, the ultimate 50-50 question, innocent or guilty, and then they vote again at the end and what we found in Chichester and in the West End was that people's opinions would change between the first half and the second half. What we're talking about is narrative and manipulation and truth. Quiz shows where the answers are fixed seem old-fashioned in a way in our world of distorted truth and alternative truth. And most people feel that they know the story and they have made up their minds and they know that he was guilty but what we try to do with the play is to give people the defence, to try to give the Ingrams’ side of the story, and the fact is that for every piece of evidence that the prosecution used, the Ingrams had something that they used in their defence.”
James is delighted that the show is now going out on tour: “We had talked about it touring a few years ago but because of the pandemic things got rather delayed.” And in the meantime James is pleased to have been able to change the play to reflect new thinking: “The real joy is that this is a story that has kept on developing. You think that it is like a fixed piece of history from the recent past but during the show in Chichester and in the West End a lot of the real-life characters from the drama came to see it and we would chat with them afterwards and they would come up with their theories or another piece of evidence, and I think that's what continues to make it so compelling.”