Ten Times Table
- Gareth Vile
- 10 February 2020
Tarnished by time comedy
Having been the most popular playwright of the early 1980s – in 1983, there were more productions of his plays than Shakespeare across the UK – Alan Ayckbourn's Ten Times Table has not aged well. Possibly rooted in the political tensions of 1977 – as the Conservative party began their journey towards Thatcherism and punk rock raised bourgeois hackles – it relates the adventures of a committee trying to set up a local festival. With a Marxist school teacher usurping a local historical figure for his own egotistical and revolutionary ends, and a Tory wife and husband enlisting a disturbed ex-army officer to combat what they say as a cult of personality, Ten Times Table might hint at seismic political changes, and echo more contemporary polarisations. Unfortunately, the shifts in social dynamics and taste since 1977 leave this production ultimately toothless and inconsequential.
The gender politics are embarrassing – women are seen in relationship to men – and the caricatures are too broad to have either comic or satirical impact. Craig Gazey stands out as Eric, the revolutionary, with his effete postures and incendiary ambitions. The tension between Eric's self-mythologising and his lack of physical presence or bravery lends his character some depth: while the rest of the ensemble work hard, they have little substance to develop. Laurence (Robert Duncan) is a comedy drunk, Sophie (Gemma Oaten) is an unfulfilled women at the mercy of whatever might pass for excitement, Ray (Robert Daws) is a bumbling committee-man and his wife Helen (Deborah Grant) is an archetypal bourgeois wife. Even the comic exchanges lack wit, and are rolled out like a series of earnest complaints.
A faster pace might have rescued the script, pulling out either its collapse into farce and violence, but there is little evidence that Ten Times Table retains any relevance in the twenty-first century. The cosy inanity of provincial politics seems to excuse the chaotic consequences of their crazed committee capers, and the production struggles to raise consistent laughter.
Reviewed at King's Theatre, Glasgow. Now touring.