Ten Times Table
Theatre Royal Windsor
Reviewed – 27th January 2020
“every character vivid and witty as the play builds to its satisfyingly mad climax”
Sir Alan Ayckbourn is probably England’s best-known living playwright, and almost certainly its most successful. With more than 80 plays to his credit, he’s celebrated for a string of biting comedies that poke enthusiastic fun at the adulterous middle classes. At 80, he’s still writing, but was at his high point in the seventies and eighties, with a record-breaking five plays once running simultaneously in the West End. These days he’s also often the subject of university theses, with some seeing more than sparkling comedy and huge box office success in the darker side of his writing.
‘Ten Times Table’ was written in 1977, after the playwright endured a year of seemingly interminable committee meetings as his Scarborough theatre prepared to move. Yes, at least in the first half, this is ‘a predominantly sedentary farce’ about committee meetings, according to its author. It’s also something of an allegory for the politics of its day, when union activism was just taking off, and Margaret Thatcher was preparing to take power. But don’t be put off! In the hands of this team of seasoned Ayckbourn performers, directed by the excellent Robin Herford, an excellent evening’s entertainment is guaranteed.
The play opens as Robert Daws (Tuppy Glossop in Jeeves & Wooster) enters the darkened ballroom of a tatty three star hotel. He and Deborah Grant (playing his wife) are the mainstays of the play, which has a large cast by Ayckbourn’s standards. As Ray, Daws has a repertoire of funny vocal mannerisms that are just right for a pedantic committee Chairman. With her big hair and bigger speeches, there’s more than a passing resemblance to Margaret Thatcher in Grant’s smart performance as his wife. Her protagonist is a Marxist teacher of modern history who becomes obsessed with bringing to life a working class hero in a historical pageant (an excellent performance by Craig Gazey, Graeme Proctor in ‘Coronation Street’). The rest of the cast are equally strong, with every character vivid and witty as the play builds to its satisfyingly mad climax.
It’s also worth mentioning some satisfying design backing up the performers in this traditional-looking show (Michael Holt, with sound and lighting by Dan Samson and Jason Taylor).
A play about committees and the posturing follies of British political life? In these capable hands we’re guaranteed a good evening that brought appreciative whistles and cheers from a good-natured audience at the start of its short Windsor run.
Reviewed by David Woodward
Photography by Pamela Raith
Ten Times Table
Theatre Royal Windsor until 1st February then UK tour continues
Previously reviewed at this venue: