Alan Ayckbourn is one of England’s most prolific and well-loved comedy playwrights. Ten Times Table was inspired by his own experience of being on a committee trying to organise a move to a new theatre for his company. It was written and is set in the 1970s.
The characters are committee members organising a pageant based on a local historical event. Anyone who has been on a committee will recognise many of them – there’s a pedantic secretary, two members with opposing political views who hate each other, a husband and wife who argue, another husband and wife who won’t attend at the same time, a love triangle, a member who never turns up, a soldier who wants to run the pageant as a military campaign and a deaf octogenarian minute taker.
Trying to keep order is the well-meaning chairman who struggles to maintain his initial enthusiasm. The rather long first half is a series of committee meetings where the humour is mainly verbal. The second half is the farce of the pageant itself, with ill-fitting costumes and a horse that must be seen to be believed.
All the actors play their roles extremely well – as you would expect from a professional cast. Robert Daws is the chairman, Ray, and captures perfectly the exasperation of a man whose great idea is gradually running away from him. His wife Helen is a staunch Tory and there is definitely more than a hint of Margaret Thatcher in Deborah Grant’s portrayal.
Many of the best lines are reserved for the very entertaining Elizabeth Power as Audrey the minute taker, defying her pedantic son in her haste to get to the hotel bar.
The set perfectly captures a hotel ballroom which has obviously seen better days. All the action takes place here, so the detail is spot-on – faded decoration and curtains, a stage, fire doors, chandeliers – it really does set the scene well.
Overall this is a very funny production of a very funny play and Ayckbourn fans will love it. It deserves a much larger audience than it had on its opening night.
Ten Times Table continues at the Lyceum Theatre from 22 to 26 October at 7.45pm with matinees at 2pm on Thursday and 3pm on Saturday.