Ten Times Table Review

Newcastle Theatre Royal – until 9 November 2019

This genteel comedy of manners is very much a play of its time.  Written and set in the 1970’s by Alan Ayckbourn, Ten Times Table is the first production of The Classic Comedy Theatre Company

Essentially a series of committee meetings, we witness a group of villagers prepare a pageant based on a somewhat vague event, with arguments from the very beginning.   Robert Daws, as committee chairman Ray, anchors the first act with his portrayal of a man watching his pet project disintegrate before his eyes. Deborah Grant as his wife Helen, who sees herself as the guardian of tradition and moral decency, is clearly a woman used to getting her own way

The re-enactment of ‘The Massacre of the Pendon Twelve,’ an alleged group of 18th century tax reform radicals put down by the army, gets hijacked by Eric, a left-wing teacher, and a self proclaimed Marxist.  Craig Gazey portrays Eric’s growing identification with Jonathan Cockle (the supposed agricultural martyr who is the focus of the pageant), with energy and an odd charm. And it’s that charm that makes it plausible that two women would fall for him. Rhiannon Handy is his very meek (almost silent) live in lover and Gemma Oaten is unlucky in love Sophie, who breeds dogs with her slightly mad brother, ex- army officer Tim (Harry Gostelow).  Gostelow’s fanatical soldier is one of the highlights of the second half of the play 

The play follows their riotous deliberations and, leading up to a chaotic final scene on Pageant Day itself, we witness characters that will be familiar to anyone who has ever served on a committee.  Donald (Mark Curry), the self-important local councillor who is on every committee imaginable. His aged mother Audrey (Elizabeth Power), taking the minutes despite being almost completely deaf and relying on lip reading. Power manages to steal every scene she is in and, for me, was the star of the show.   And Robert Duncan is the drunk Lawrence who is going through a marriage breakup.

All the action takes place in  the faded 3 star ballroom of the Swan hotel. In its heyday it was the place to be seen, but not any more but still an ideal place to hold committee meetings of this sort. Even if it is cold, the lights don’t work and during one meeting, there is extensive hammering going off.  The committee table dominates the set for the whole of the first half. This is convincingly realistic but at almost 90 minutes long it does begin to drag – despite some laugh out loud funny moments.  The second half, at only just over 30 minutes, is hysterical and pure farce – the “horse” needs to be seen to be believed.  

This was every committee meeting I have ever attended, slow, long winded but completely farcical.  In Newcastle until Saturday 9 November and on tour around the UK