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Ten Times Table

Alan Ayckbourn
The Classic Comedy Theatre Company
Grand Opera House, York

Robert Daws (Ray), Mark Curry (Donald) and Rhiannon Handy (Philippa) Credit: Pamela Raith
Gemma Oaten (Sophie), Robert Daws (Ray), Mark Curry (Donald), Craig Gazey (Eric), Robert Duncan (Laurence) and Deborah Grant (Helen) Credit: Pamela Raith
The cast Credit: Pamela Raith

The 1970s was a golden period in Alan Ayckbourn’s career during which he wrote some of his most admired plays, including Absurd Person Singular (1972), The Norman Conquests (1973) and Bedroom Farce (1975). For its inaugural production, The Classic Comedy Theatre Company has chosen to dust off Ten Times Table (1977), one of Ayckbourn’s lesser-known works from this period.

Inspired by Ayckbourn’s experience of attending a string of repetitive and largely non-productive committee meetings, Ten Times Table focuses on the preparations for a village pageant. Ray (Robert Daws), the head of the committee, suggests that they should re-enact a local historical event in which 18th-century agricultural workers rose up against their masters before being brutally put in their place. However, internal divisions soon arise when Marxist teacher Eric (Craig Gazey) decides to play the workers’ leader and effectively rewrite history.

For scholars of Ayckbourn’s work, Ten Times Table is a noteworthy play. Set entirely within the ballroom of the Swan Hotel, it marks a departure from the domestic settings of his earlier comedies (living and dining rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and gardens). And while Ten Times Table is far from being a state-of-the-nation play, it nevertheless reflects what was happening in British politics during this period, namely the conflict between extreme ideologies that would usher in Margaret Thatcher two years later.

I have enjoyed many of Ayckbourn’s plays in the past, but this is not one of his strongest efforts. Compared to Joking Apart (1978), the play he wrote immediately after this one, the characters are noticeably two-dimensional and the comedy simply isn’t as sharp.

That being said, there are some nice performances from the ensemble. Robert Daws is particularly good as the committee’s well-meaning and increasingly exasperated leader, and Elizabeth Power is very funny as Audrey, the deaf committee member who is relied upon to take the minutes.

Director Robin Herford has helmed many successful productions of Ayckbourn’s plays over his career, but his staging of Ten Times Table feels particularly leaden and static. In fairness, it must be difficult to stage a play about committee meetings that doesn’t end up recreating the tedium of such pursuits.

Reviewer: James Ballands