Ten Times Table

Alan Ayckbourn
The Classic Comedy Theatre Company
Festival Theatre, Malvern
to

Committees can be hell: Ray (Robert Daws), Donald (Mark Curry), Philippa (Rhiannon Handy), Eric (Craig Gazey), Sophie (Gemma Oaten) and a distraught Helen (Deborah Grant) Credit: Pamela Raith
When you're smiling: Audrey (Elizabeth Power) and Laurence (Robert Duncan) Credit: Pamela Raith
Not as the fete would have it: Tim (Harry Gostelow) armed for action Credit: Pamela Raith

In socialist Yugoslavia, where I lived in the 1970s, a phenomenon arose called mitingovanje, a tendency for interminable workers’ committee meetings that produced nothing except headaches and frustration.

In Conservative Skegness, at about the same time, Alan Ayckbourn was experiencing something similar as council committees discussed plans to find a new home for his theatre.

Beware the bored playwright. He soon had his revenge in Ten Times Table, his satire on a petty bureaucracy that can waste time on a misplaced comma in the chairman’s report, or the marital troubles of the old soak in the corner.

A problem is that unless the writing is tip-top—and this is not one of the greatest plays in the Ayckbourn canon—poking fun at the boring can be a little, er, boring, and it’s not until the shorter second half that events liven up.

The story concerns plans in the market town of Pendon to commemorate a 200-year-old supposed massacre of protesting agricultural labourers by the local militia.

Deliberations are presided over by the excellent Robert Daws as Ray, a perfect picture of moderation and emollience over all, except that is over his right-wing wife Helen, played by Deborah Grant with a rich mixture of assertiveness and misery.

Craig Gazey, his distinctive drawl best known from his role in Coronation Street, plays lefty Eric, who, deciding to organise his volunteers who will play the labourers in the coming pageant, certainly puts the ‘eric’ in hyst-eric-al. In response, Helen recruits Tim, played by Harry Gostelow, an ex-Army type who takes the re-enactment all too seriously.

Gemma Oaten is the charming Sophie, Rhiannon Handy plays that Ayckbourn favourite the mouse-woman, Mark Curry is the ‘point-of-order Mr Chairman’ Donald and Robert Duncan the whisky-tippling Laurence.

But the star of the show, and provider of the night’s highlight, is Elizabeth Power as Audrey, taking the minutes that never appear, then tickling the ivories with a selection of old piano favourites like "You Are My Sunshine" and "When You’re Smiling" while militia and militants knock seven bells out of each other. You’ve got to laugh.

Reviewer: Colin Davison