Reviewed by Deborah Mackenzie
The year before Alan Ayckbourn penned this playwright, he had his first experiences of being on a committee, their procedures and protocols intrigued him, particularly the way the people became involved. Ayckbourn comments; ‘Put a man behind the wheel of a car, they say, and his personality really starts to show itself. Similarly, a committee soon separates the goats. Apparent strong men weaken. Non-entities inherit the floor. Silent men gabble on inarticulately and to no point. Talkative men grow silent and merely emit low indecipherable moans of dissent and agreement.’
Ten Times Table, so called for the ‘ten’ around the committee table, is directed by Robin Herford. An idea of holding a folk festival by a go-ahead shopkeeper, gathers a group to put it into action for the following summer. A decision to replay the massacre of the ‘Pendon Twelve’, an alleged group of eighteen century land workers and the military when they protest and ask for a pay rise. The twelve led by John Cockle who was pleading their cause, were massacred in the marketplace.
The committee becomes a battleground, a huge divide between members as each take on their own agenda for the festival. The young Marxist teacher decided to turn it into a rally for working-class revolution; on the opposite side the Chairman’s conservative wife, makes for an explosive battle in the ‘boardroom’ of the Swan Hotel. But not all goes smoothly on the day of the pageant.
“We-e-e-e-e-ll … no-o-o-o-w!” The hapless Chairman Ray (Robert Daws) of the very dysfunctional committee cried, almost whined in the attempts to refocus and reconcile the warring committee members. Daws was really funny in his role and at times was caught between a rock and a hard place having his wife on the committee. His ‘catch phrase’ was annoying yet worked really well, so much so my husband has been mimicking it repeatedly!
Deborah Grant as Helen, Chairman Ray’s very conservative wife, portrayed Thatcher in many ways as the iron lady, someone on the committee not to be trifled with. Her mannerism and being working class oozed out of her, from the way that she was dressed to how she held herself. Even in her moment of defeat, when she burst out crying as she couldn’t get things her way; she was remarkable.
Elizabeth Power’s as Audrey was delightful; the hard of hearing mother of the committee’s Secretary, enrolled to take the minutes, yet never quite got what was going on. Her out of context remarks were extremely funny. The scene of the pageant where she had been elected to play the piano was a delight, not one hundred percent sure if it really was her playing or not, but I enjoyed how she was lost in her playing and ended up missing the what was going down in the market square.
The odd person in the show was Rhiannon Handy as Philippa, who never really spoke but ‘peeped’ her lines out in a silent yet just audible way. Paired as the partner of the young Marxist teacher, who seemed to walk all over her, even by having an affair with her knowledge. Brought onto the committee as the costume maker, she never did find her voice.
We both enjoyed the evening, we laughed and reminiscent of our days on committees, which Ayckbourn captured and portrayed with his exaggerated characters. For a light-hearted and fun evening this would appeal to those who have sat through those meetings where the other side of people’s characters rear their ugly heads.
Tickets cost from £18 (booking fees may apply).
Ten Times Table is at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh from 3-8 February 2020, for more information or to book tickets visit www.capitaltheatres.com or call the box office on 0131 529 6000.
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9LQ | 0131 529 6000