By Benito Di Fonzo
Who'd have thought pub trivia was Australia's answer to Sex and the City?
"Every quizmaster knows if you show weakness to a quiz crowd they'll turn on you," says playwright Stephen Vagg. "It becomes chaos. I've seen it happen, people arguing over answers."
Such a moment occurs in Vagg's new play, Trivia, when the authority of quizmaster Terry (Vincent Parfitt) is challenged by Gary (Ryan Hayward), one of a group of 30-something expat Brisbanites who gather in a Darlinghurst pub over four weeks to win a $10,000 trivia challenge.
"Gary's one of those people who like showing off their knowledge," says director Adam Gelin.
"But look what you're showing off. These are not important things. Yet there's something impressive about a person who can spout out who starred in [cult '80s film] The Goonies."
Like Gary, Vagg quit his job as a lawyer in Brisbane to study writing in Sydney. Since he completed a scriptwriting degree at the Australian Film Television and Radio School, his play, All My Friends are Leaving Brisbane, has been made into a feature film, and his AWGIE-nominated Friday Night Drinks has been performed in Britain.
Vagg has since turned his attention to the patrons of pub trivia nights.
"I'm sure trivia nights weren't that popular 10 years ago," he says.
"They're everywhere now.
"Maybe it's a generation X thing, a backlash against the boomers because they always thought about big issues such as war and apartheid. Maybe a lot of us grew up and thought, 'What a wank. I'd rather be into Star Wars trivia.' The boomers have got the Beatles and we've got Britney."
Gelin's theory is less controversial.
"Trivia gives you the structure that you're looking for, for the evening," the director says. "You know when it begins, you know when it ends and you know what happens in the middle.
"In a life where you're supposed to be doing stuff all the time, if you're not working then you should be doing sport or something to improve your life. Trivia nights will give you the excuse that you're doing something, even though it's not really doing anything."
For Gary, his girlfriend Michaela (Emma Grant), her ex, Ben (Randall Mettam), and confidante A.J. (Fiona Butler), as well as Aram (David Francis) and a flow of former lovers and "f--- buddies" (all played by 2005 Short & Sweet festival winner Sara Browne), Terry's trivia night becomes a means of creating a social network without all the complications of having to think of something to say.
"It's about a group of Brisbane expats living in Sydney because that's what I was," Vagg says.
"Michaela wants to get a trivia team together because she doesn't have many friends. People imagine that when you're single in Sydney it's all going to be like Sex in the City."
But isn't that set in New York?
"Well, The Secret Life of Us then."
That's set in Melbourne, isn't it? Maybe you mean Love My Way.
"No," Vagg says, "they've got kids."
So, trivia becomes the characters' excuse to socialise, as opposed to just sitting in a pub drinking, "which is more sad," Gelin says. "And I think what's sadder than that is sitting at home watching TV. At least they're getting out there and interacting with people."
Despite being drawn together by social isolation, the team members decide they want to win the $10,000 prize, and as we follow their stories we also follow the team's progress.
"Trivia has that appeal of sport," Vagg says. "Except trivia's a sport in which you can play and drink beer and eat Twisties at the same time. And you don't have to be in any sort of shape, as you can usually tell when you go to a trivia night."
But Vagg stresses the play doesn't intend to diss trivia patrons: "Trivia nights can be a lot of fun. Most people do have an accumulation of totally useless knowledge which serves no purpose except for trivia competitions, or writing plays about them."
TRIVIAApril 20 to May 13, 8pm, Newtown Theatre, corner King and Bray Streets, 1300 306 776, $18-$25 (Tuesdays, pay what you can).