Ayckbourn's witty committee call to disorder

TEN TIMES TABLESHEFFIELD LYCEUM

Tuesday, 22nd October 2019, 12:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 23rd October 2019, 3:46 pm
Robert Daws in Ten Times Table at the Sheffield Lyceum

The accurately-observed characters in Alan Ayckbourn’s entertaining comedy about the politics of a provincial committee are wittily portrayed by an excellent cast of nine (not ten – there’s one who never attends but keeps sending his apologies).

Ray, the hapless, bullying, ingratiating chairman, has the idea of using a local historical story as the basis for a pageant, unaware of the fuse he’s lit.

Soon, the committee is at war with itself. Helen, whose conservatism is deeply ingrained, finds an unlikely ally in Laurence, a barely articulate middle-class drunk, and is at loggerheads with Eric, a committed schoolteacher and Marxist. Donald, a councillor who prides himself on knowing the required etiquette, tries, ineffectually, to bring some reason to the debate. Tim, a right-wing fantasist, has no interest in reason.

The pageant hinges on the clash between the proletariat martyrs (as Eric sees them) and the reactionary forces of the aristocracy.

The characters are pompous, absurd, self-absorbed – yet also endearingly human. Their struggles reflect divisions within society as a whole – in earlier times, and in the mid-seventies when the play was written.

Does it reflect the divisions of today? There are hints to suggest that this is one of the reasons for its revival. But director Robin Herford never loses sight of the incidental things which give this play a farce-like edge. Alan Payne