Play: Ten Times Table

  • Christy Lawrance

Well-meant plans for a uplifting community event spiral into chaos and conflict in this sharply observed comedy by Alan Ayckbourn.

Anyone who has ever sat on a committee or worked on a group project will recognise the characters but there is certainly enough wit and humour to engross anyone who hasn't.

The play follows a group of residents of the small town of Pendon, as they meet in the ballroom of the down-at-heel Swan Hotel to plan the town's first pageant.

The event will be based around a re-enactment of a forgotten piece of local history - the massacre of the Pendon Twelve, where a workers' uprising was crushed by the authorities, led by the Earl of Dorset.

It quickly becomes apparent that those on the committee have very different views on how the event should be portrayed.

Despite the placatory and upbeat attempts of committee chair Ray (Stuart Fox), an acrimonious rift develops. On one side is Ray's wife, the outspoken, upper middle-class Helen (Louise Jameson, of Dr Who and Bergerac fame); on the other is Marxist teacher Eric (Antony Eden).

Many characters are recognisable. Donald (Ben Porter), the tedious councillor, drones on about his numerous committees; despite his sense of importance, he is unable to secure any grants. Lawrence (Ian Targett) is a crumpling drunk concerned mainly with his failing marriage. There is even the one who never turns up.

The mood is both disrupted and amplified by the setting, with banging noises from building work and ballroom lighting that seems to have a life of its own. And what is that person doing with the drum?

The committee splits into two - one for the rebels and one for the earl. Eric, in charge of his subgroup, increasingly identifies with rebel leader John Cockle, seeing himself champion of the downtrodden (although he's somewhat hypocritical). In the other corner, the fierce Helen plans a determined response. As conflict becomes intense, dog-breeder Tim (Nick Waring) displays some alarming military tendencies. Tensions escalate and, on pageant day, the re-enactment runs wildly out of control.

Most of the action takes place around the table but the characters keep the story moving.

Over the play, Tim's sister Sophie (Sarah Lawrie) becomes less of a quiet and compliant observer as she becomes enamoured of Eric; her unspoken observations are spot-on - one of my companions, a survivor of many a parish council meeting, recognised "every one" of her changing expressions from real life.

Even quieter is the barely audible Philippa (Rhiannon Handy), Eric's girlfriend. Despite being the committee mouse, she sticks by him despite attempts by the formidable Helen to get her to work for the earl's side.

Audrey (Elizabeth Power) turns out to be something of a dark horse. Is she really a dotty old lady and as deaf as her son Donald says? Her research on the history gives rise to an unexpected twist at the end.

The play was inspired by the committee meetings that Ayckbourn had to endure while the Stephen Joseph Theatre was being moved to its new building.

Directed by Robin Herford, Ten Times Table is at The Mill at Sonning, Sonning Eye, Oxfordshire until 22 September.

Tickets include a meal in the Mill's restaurant, which includes vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. The building, a working mill until the 1960s, is grade II listed. Its bar has a working wheel and a charming outdoor terrace overlooking the river.


The Mill at Sonning
Christy Lawrance

Tags: Sarah Lawrie, Alan Ayckbourn, Louise Jameson, Ben Porter, Ten Times Table, Christy Lawrance,

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