Despite reaching the grand old age of 50 I had never seen an Alan Ayckbourn play.
- Grand Opera House
- Till Sat 15 Feb 2020
- More details
I’ve now belatedly rectified that omission, with Ten Times Table, which premiered in 1977 and is revived here as the inaugural production of the Classic Comedy Theatre Company.
The play takes place in the days before mobile phones, computers and PowerPoint and is a satirical take on the dullness of committee meetings and their inefficiencies. It perfectly encapsulates the differing personalities and dramatises the conflict of opposing political beliefs and social classes.
The cast do a superb job of taking an extremely dry and drawn out first half full of committee meetings and turn it into a farcically funny finale in the all too brief second half when the historical pageant is acted out in full costume.
It’s hard to pick a favourite from the cast as everyone shone, each embracing their roles and characterising them with perfection.
Laughing out loud
As slow as the first half was there was plenty to laugh at, and I suspect it was deliberately paced to reflect the dullness that you’d expect from a community project committee meeting.
The committee starts off with good intentions wanting to put on a splendid pageant to celebrate their local history. But lack of support and funding, infighting and a touch of apathy mean that it’s a rather deflated and disastrous end result – although it left the audience laughing out loud at their pretentions of grandeur on a shoe string budget.
Everything about the story, including the set and attitudes, reflects a bygone era. The hotel that hosts the committee is itself a shadow of it its former self – cold, draughty and faded – a perfect backdrop to the social contradictions.
The lights turning on and off, the carpet fitters and random people interrupting the meeting all add to the atmosphere.
Robert Daws is superb as the bumbling chairman Ray, trying to please everyone whilst yet maintain his sense of self-importance. Some of his funniest moments are non-verbal, and his sound effects, drawn out words and posturing are kind of endearing.
You have to feel sympathy for him when faced with his argumentative and opinionated wife played so convincingly by Deborah Grant. He’s so busy peace-making that he fails to recognise the lack of progress.
Mark Curry plays the local councillor who only appears to have been invited to join the committee in the hope he can be a positive influence in terms of funding and licences but never quite seems to fulfil requirements.
Let’s face it, this is a character who has never quite achieved anything and bumbles along through life whilst still living at home with his octogenarian mother. He’s precise, correct, and a grammar pedant to boot.
You expect to dislike him but you can’t help feeling sorry for him the more you get to know him.
Craig Gazey reveals his Marxist leanings early on and he plays his part on the committee passionately and effusively, almost coming to blows at one stage with the chairman’s wife.
You get the impression he really enjoys antagonising her, and she never fails to respond. At one point he becomes so passionate during his political rhetoric that his face goes bright red, so involved in his role you worry about his blood pressure.
Elizabeth Power sits in the corner of the set, playing the hard of hearing octogenarian secretary who can never quite seem to keep up with the minute taking. Some of her funniest moments are not what she says, but just watching her as she’s oblivious to what’s happening around her and is lost in her own little world.
She goes from being out of breath climbing stairs to a surprising burst of agility when a drink in the bar is suggested, something many of us can identify with!
A military coup
The highlight for me was definitely the far too short second half where the pageant is played out. What started out as a historical tribute seems to have become a military coup, and the costume and prop disasters provide much amusement.
It’s best described as a farce and as you watch the disaster unfold you can almost predict the next joke.
It’s a hard play to describe as I’ve never left a theatre alongside such a quiet audience. Normally the exit is full of chatter and conversation, whereas this felt more like a stunned silence as everyone tried to work out what they made of the show.
Would I go see this again? Probably not. Was it a waste of an evening? Definitely not.
My friend and I enjoyed the performances and did have lots of laughs. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you have a dry sense of humour and enjoy a touch of slapstick you’ll probably enjoy this show.