King’s Theatre, Edinburgh – until 8 February 2020
Reviewed by James Knight
All mild-mannered Ray Dickson wants is to hold a pageant at the very first Pendham Folk Festival, to celebrate his town’s history. What he didn’t count on was the stresses that come with the preceding committee meetings that threaten to turn a harmless little English folk pageant into a political rally.
Alan Ayckbourn is one of the country’s most prolific playwrights having written over 80 plays. ‘Ten Times Table’ was first performed in 1977, just as the Labour party was beginning to lose its grip and Margaret Thatcher was readying the Tories to take power and change the industrial landscape of Britain for good. Ayckbourn is notoriously apolitical as a writer, which makes any statement on the politics displayed onstage moot. Clearly, our sympathy is meant to lie with Ray himself (a beleaguered Robert Daws) – the man trying to corral the madness. A seemingly self-made business owner, he is beset by problems from the off. Despite organising and convening the committee himself, he must first be proposed, seconded and accepted as chairman, according to the boring and officious local councillor Donald (Mark Curry).
And so the tedium of committees sets in.
The unwritten rules of conduct must, must, be observed, motions are passed, and the whole point of Ray’s hopes for the pageant are slowly squashed, as Marxist teacher Eric (Craig Gazey) and Ray’s own wife Helen (Deborah Grant) gear up for battle. Eric sees the pageant as a chance for the working man to stand up against the fascist military and an opportunity to publicise himself as well, while Helen just wants to put the little man in his place. In doing so, she eventually enlists the help of an actual military man whose sister may or may not be sleeping with Eric.
When the madness does eventually happen, guns are fired, fake rifles used as clubs and costumes malfunction, all while Elizabeth Power’s Audrey plays contentedly on the piano in the background, completely oblivious.
It takes a while for the chaos to ensue, however, bogged down as we are in the first act by relentless bureaucracy, but laughs are easy to come by whenever Audrey or the almost entirely mute Phillipa (Rhiannon Hardy, pretty much effortlessly stealing the show with very little stagetime) are involved.