Georgina Southam reviews Ten Times Table, by the acclaimed playwright Alan Ayckbourn, on at Theatre Royal Bath until 7 December
Ayckbourn is a prolific playwright with over 70 productions to his name. Known for his satire surrounding the lives of ordinary people, it comes as no surprise that his production of Ten Times Table can be described as “a study of the committee person” or “a predominantly sedentary farce”. Having taken inspiration from his frustration at attending committee meetings to obtain funding and support for the move of a new theatre space, he creates a battle of personalities and political agendas in this production.
The play follows an inexperienced chairman who draws together a motley crew of committee members to organise and fundraise the re-enactment of a slice of local history. Clashes soon arise, names are slung and chaos ensues within the confines of The Swan Hotel. The re-enactment in question involves a street protest by workers who are brutally suppressed by the local militia supported by the aristocracy – a rather fitting piece of history to focus on considering the personalities within the committee, one might say.
With the members compiling of an aggressive housewife and a surly Marxist; a bureaucrat who revels in committee work with his ageing and deaf mother whose job is to take the minutes; a saccharine drunk; two young women, one of whom merely squeaks and later an out of control militarist, having such a diverse bunch of characters, you would expect a raucous comedy. However, time has not been kind to this rather dated play with archaic social attitudes.
Stylistically hovering between a comedy and satire, many of the cast performances land more on the absurd with its unrealism and manic energy. Mark Curry gives a subtle performance as Donald, the knowledgeable and experienced councillor whose constant interruptions undermine the committee’s best interests, engaging in earnest and in depth characterisation that provides some comedic relief.
The polarised characters are Deborah Grant as Helen and Craig Gazey as Eric, the self-proclaimed Marxist. Helen is a strong Tory wife, whose bulldozing personality and loud demeanour clash with Gazey’s far left Marxist beliefs. Gazey’s interpretation of Eric creates difficulty when performing an impassioned speech in defence of Marxism; it is made ridiculous by a distracting and superfluous clumsiness.
The setting is simple – the committee table within the forgotten three-star Swan Hotel dominates the set for the entire first half, causing the production to be somewhat static, while the cast do their best to perform with some zeal but unfortunately end up being as stagnant as the set.
Main image: The cast of Ten Times Table (from left to right): Robert Daws as Ray, Deborah Grant as Helen, Rhiannon Handy as Philippa, Craig Gazey as Eric, Elizabeth Power as Audrey, Gemma Oaten as Sophie, Robert Duncan as Lawrence, Mark Curry as Donald and Harry Gostelow as Tim