The scene of committee talking in circles and achieving very little is one that can seem strangely familiar especially in today’s political climate, which is one the elements that has helped Alan Ayckbourn’s 1977 retain a somewhat timeless element.
Ten Times Table follows an incredibly mismatched committee in a series of meetings in the run-up to Pendon Town’s inaugural Folk Festival. The clashing personalities help bring a number laughs to every scene, whilst also driving the drama of the play. Despite the show being over 40 years old the characters presented are still extremely recognisible, and are people that in reality anyone would dread working with – from straight Donald (Mark Curry) to the dramatic Helen (Deborah Grant) but crowd favourite by far was the slightly delirious Audrey (Elizabeth Power) who’s lack of hearing is a recurring gag throughout the show, leading to her offering boiled sweets mid-argument and wildly misinterpreting what is expected of her. The committee is led by Ray (Robert Daws), who although flustered and awkward and times remains passionate about his cause through, and Daws retains this high energy throughout and leads the cast well.
The entirety of the play takes place in a meeting room of the three star Swan Hotel, the decided location of the committee meetings. Michael Holt’s set design effectively shows the lost glamour of the establishment, with ageing curtains, drab wall paper and and pitifully small chandelier – the ineffective lights which often switch of mid-meeting are another recurring gag which helps set the tone of the place. Despite the effective set design the idea of staging a committee meeting on an proscenium arch theatre sounds like a directional nightmare, and ultimately is. In every scene at least one cast member is sat with their back to the audience, and whilst the actors voices are not lost their facial expressions are, and this is a large disappointment, especially during Helen’s outburst in the first scene, where the audience do not get to see how visually exasperated she is until she stands up to leave. This staging also results in whichever actor is sat with their back to the audience blocking the actor they are sat opposite (usually poor Craig Gazey) meaning the audience lose the facial expressions of yet another character.
Further more, even though the only movable set being the tables and chairs the set changes seemed to take an awfully long time, leading to long, dragged out periods of blackout, made slightly more awkward by the twee instrumental music playing over the top.
Even with these staging difficulties the play remains light hearted and fun, and many laughs can be expected from the audience. Ten Times Table is touring until the 7th December and more information on dates and cities can be found here: https://www.kenwright.com/portfolio/ten-times-table/