Ten Times Table at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Ten Times Table reminds me why I always tried to get out of covering committee (and council) meetings as a young reporter and why, to this day, I still have an aversion to joining such organisations.

Personalities clash as egos run rampant. No-one really knows what they are doing and the meetings go on forever (apologies to those whose committees don’t suffer from these failings!).

The illustrious Alan Ayckbourn wrote this play in the mid-seventies from personal experience, and being the astute observer he is, gets it just right… which is why, during the first half of the first night, I was losing the will to live!

A slow burner this may be, and at first you may not even be at all interested in why the committee is meeting, but the genius of Ayckbourn is his scrutiny of the common man and as his characters evolve I have nothing but admiration for the performances of each and every member of Bill Kenwright’s Classic Comedy Theatre Company.

In the expert hands of director Robin Herford, who appeared in the original production and has been closely associated with Ayckbourn’s work ever since, Ten Times Table is a study of human behaviour and, as such, is both side-splitting and sad.

The plot revolves around the Pendon community who want to organise a pageant based on the massacre of the Pendon Twelve, where the Earl of Dorset crushed an uprising of rebellious workers. Chaired by the affable Ray, the organising committee is made up of Ray’s patronising right-wing wife Helen, Marxist schoolteacher Eric and his two groupies; Donald, a boring councillor who brings along his elderly mother to take the minutes (though how she manages being so hard of hearing!), and failed businessman and husband, Laurence.

My critique of performances has to start with Robert Duncan as Laurence. Though he has few lines, his portrayal of a broken man who is perpetually drunk is heart-breaking and my eyes filled at his every appearance.

Popular Robert Daws, as chairman Ray, is much more gung-ho, at times reminding me of Prince Andrew (sorry!), and does a nice line too in high-pitched squeaks while, as his wife, distinguished actress Deborah Grant is someone I certainly wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of. Her performance includes some searing speeches and dramatic moments not easily forgotten.

This company originates in Windsor, which houses what was my local theatre for the 30 years I lived close by before moving north. So I’m familiar with the work of most of the actors here, and one of the most enduring is Mark Curry, whom I had trouble recognising in his role as the boring councillor. I would never have put him down as a pernickety mother’s boy – but then, that is acting well done, while Elizabeth Power is wonderfully doddery as his mother. Craig Gazey, as fiery radical Eric, is also nothing like Graeme Proctor, his former, hapless Coronation Street character.

As I said, this is a slow burner, but the play bursts into flame in the final act when all hell lets loose as the pageant doesn’t quite run to plan. It’s an hilarious ending and saves one of the funniest performances to last as Harry Gostelow, as a former military man, takes matters into his own hands.
Image: Pamela Raith

Ten Times Table is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until Feb 8.
Box Office: 0131 529 6000
capitaltheatres.com
It then continues touring:
Feb 10-15: Grand Opera House, York
Feb 17-22: Severn Theatre, Shrewsbury
Feb 24-29: Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Mar 9-14: Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield
Mar 23-28: Theatre Royal, Brighton