Animal, mineral or trivia-based RTÉ comedy?
As RTÉ launches the second series its pub-quiz themed comedy drama Trivia, PATRICK FREYNEinterviews its writer and two of its stars at a pub quiz
‘YOUR HEADLINE will be ‘TV gang actually morons at quizzes’,” says novelist turned scriptwriter Damien Owens (area of expertise: obscure 1980s pop singers) with a sigh.
Owens and actors Janet Moran (area of expertise: acting mishaps) and Aoibhinn McGinnity (area of expertise: adopting snow leopards) have kindly agreed to emulate the characters in their very enjoyable RTÉ comedy-drama Trivia and enter a pub quiz with me. So we’re sitting in the D Two bar on Dublin’s Harcourt Street, competing in a table quiz organised by the charity Cat’s Aid ( catsaid.org).
Trivia began life as the tale of a local pub quiz team led by obsessive, socially inept Lawrence (David Pearse). The show, Owens says, was inspired by his own dysfunctional relationship with quizzes.
“I didn’t get the idea for the show from being good at pub quizzes,” he says with a worried expression on his face. “I got the idea from being ridiculously over the top about them. I don’t enjoy them. I’m not going to enjoy this. I end up taking them really, really seriously and personally.
“Every question is either ‘Everyone knows that one, so it’s no challenge!’ or ‘How could anyone possibly know that?’ I never think: ‘What a good question!’”
At the last pub quiz he attended, in 2007, he won some Anglo Irish Bank-branded golf gear. He’s much more interested in writing television these days.
“I remember being younger and noticing that people actually wrote these programme,” he says. “I noticed that Carla Lane was a name that appeared on all these things – The Liver Birds and Bread – and I also remember noticing at a younger age that there was a person called Enid Blyton who wrote the books I liked . . . that they didn’t just appear from nowhere.”
Moran, who plays Lawrence’s team-mate and girlfriend Molly, has been rehearsing a new play by Gary Duggan for the Dublin Theatre Festival. McGinnity, who plays the programme’s quiz host, has come from filming an episode of Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy.
Neither woman is a pub quiz aficionado, although some people have got fiction mixed up with reality. “I have had to explain that on Trivia we’re given the answers, that we’re not actually doing a quiz,” says Moran.
On the other hand, sometimes acting can have a surprisingly concrete effect on real life. McGinnity shows me a scar on her hand. “I ran off stage into the wings during a play and bashed it. I had to get a screw put in it.” She had to spend the first few episodes of Trivia with handbags and coats thrown over her bandaged arm.
“I ran on stage with no skirt on once,” says Moran. “I was doing a really quick costume change. I was supposed to keep my main skirt on under a hoopy skirt but I did that scene, ran off, dropped that skirt, pulled on a coat and ended up on stage in knee-high stockings lit by all these side lights. I did a whole scene sticking my face into the light and keeping my ass out of it.”
Such stories are why, says Owens, he rarely goes to the theatre. “The one night I’ll go is the night an actor will fall off the stage.”
Nonetheless, Owens, who has written four novels, is in awe of his acting colleagues, now back for a second series in which Lawrence tries to abstain from pub quizzes, moves in with Molly and finds a new job.
“On the set of Trivia I just feel in the way,” says Owens. “Everyone is doing something important and I’m just bumping into people going ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry’. At one point I was trying to get a souvenir from the set, someone shouted ‘Action’ and I jumped behind a table. After a minute I could hear the assistant director going: ‘Damien – we can see you.’”
The quiz begins well. We know the answers to questions such as: “Who is Reginald Kenneth Dwight better known as?”, (Elton John) and “How many women did the Eagles have on their minds when they advised people to ‘Take it easy’?” (seven). At one point we even appear to be leading on the scoreboard.
“Hopefully everyone else here only knows about cats,” says Janet.
“Maybe the prize is a cat?” says McGinnity, who has just adopted a snow leopard for another charity.
Before long, however, we’re stumped by some particularly difficult geography questions. “This is meant to be a geography and history round!” says Owens, increasingly resembling his fictional creation, Lawrence. “But there are no history questions!” Our lowest point is the “flag round”, during which we fail to identify nine national flags. We even mistake the flag of Ivory Coast for the Irish flag.
“This is terrible,” says Moran, laughing, as our score stalls (we end up coming joint fifth).
“I did think we’d do better,” says McGinnity.
“The dream is over,” says Owens, his head in his hands.
Trivia is on RTÉ 1 tomorrow at 10.15pm