Ayckbourn's Ten Times Table still adds up after 40 years

Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy, Ten Times Table, about the fall-out among a committee planning a historical pageant in a small town, was first performed in 1977.

Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 11:47 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th October 2019, 2:44 pm
The cast of Alan Ayckbourn's Ten Times Table touring to the Sheffield Lyceum

A revival, which tours to the Sheffield Lyceum next week, has retained its Seventies setting.

“It has to be done that way to work, it has to be before mobile phones and all of that,” says Deborah Grant playing the arch-Tory wife of the committee chairman. “But it is surprisingly relevant today, the problems between the Tories and the so-called lefties go on for ever, it seems.”

Now, of course, divisions are no longer on strictly party lines so will that affect how audiences see it?

Robert Daws and Deborah Grant in Ten Times Table

“It will be interesting to see – because presumably something will happen before October 31 – however it plays out,” she responds.

“It’s extraordinary how we have gone through decades where nobody seemed interested in politics, now everyone is suddenly on fire and talks about little else.

“I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing but it has certainly rejuvenated politics in this country and galvanised our youngsters which is wonderful.”

As to Ten Times Tables it’s about human behaviour rather than politics. “It was based on Alan Ayckbourn’s experience of sitting on committees in Scarborough,” explains Grant. “He is one of those brilliant writers who is never living but listening. So a lot of these characters, I fear, well we know, are based on real people.”

The new production is directed by Robin Herford who acted in the original production and has directed it four times since. “We are blessed. No one knows this play better apart from Ayckbourn himself.”

This is Deborah Grant’s third Ayckbourn appearance after taking over from the original Bedroom Farce cast in the West End when they went to New York in 1979 and more recently in Absurd Person Singular on tour for Bill Kenwright with Robert Duncan who is also in this.

“I just love his plays and am so thrilled to be doing another one,” she says.

Ten Times Table is the inaugural production of The Classic Comedy Theatre Company, produced by Bill Kenwright in the vein of The Agatha Christie, The Classic Thriller and The Classic Screen To Stage companies.

“I have done a number of the Classic Thrillers and it’s great to be doing comedy for a change.”

In fact these days Deborah Grant is probably best known for comedy in the long-running sitcom, Not Going Out, playing Lee Mack’s mother-in-law.

But she insists: “I am very much the straight guy in Not Going Out and try and comfort myself that there has to be a straight guy in these things.”

Series 11 is scheduled to start recording around the time of the end of the Ten Times Table tour next May. And she understands there are more series in the offing which takes away the uncertainty about recommissioning. “I guess at my age I am happy just to be working at well past retirement age - though I guess actors don’t really retire.”

Her CV is packed with TV classics such as Bouquet of Barbed Wire, Bergerac (playing the Jersey detective’s ex), Peak Practice and Victoria Wood so she is not associated with one thing.

“That’s the sad thing. People say, ‘ I know you don’t I?’ and I say yes and then they ask what they have seen me in and I reel off a whole lot of things because I have been doing this for 50 years and they just look blank. It’s really depressing,” she laughs.

Ten Times Table is at the Sheffield Lyceum from Monday to Saturday, October 21-26.