Review: Ten Times Table at Windsor
The mad, bad and dangerous to know are sitting on a committee near you. Alan Ayckbourn's brilliant observational comedy reveals the politics of people sat round a table with brew and biccies.
As Brexit negotiations continue and the majority of the UK bury their heads in the sand, it’s timely for legendary playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table to pop up at the Theatre Royal Windsor. Not because it’s a send up of government and its political processes (although that would be fabulous), but the fact similar characters appear, whether they’re organising the ‘fete worse than death’ or an EU divorce.
Yes, we’re swapping grand, historic buildings for the slightly shabby ballroom of the Swan Hotel, but Ten Times Table has all the major players – a self-important Boris Johnson, a vain left-wing Jeremy Corbyn, boozy Jean-Claude Junker and a well-intentioned yet ineffectual Theresa May. I imagine they all start and end their careers power grabbing on on a local committee over a brew and a bourbon biscuit, so this feels like familiar ground.
Ayckbourn is a genius at analysing ordinary people in everyday situations, so the attempts of a village committee to organise the first Pendon Folk Festival, is familiar and very funny. The opening of the festival, as envisaged by weak chairman Ray (Robert Daws), will be an uplifting pageant based on a flimsy piece of local history, The Massacre of the Pendon 12.
As the disparate committee members who include Ray’s wife, Helen (Deborah Grant), ‘professional’ committee member (Mark Curry), a Marxist school teacher (Craig Grazey), impressionable woman (Gemma Oaten) military dog breeder and an ancient secretary (Elizabeth Power), break into right and left-wing factions, their wrangling climaxes in a chaotic scenes that mirror the original event all too closely.
All the action unfolds around the one set, with a large table and eight chairs – the committee enduring, no shows, noise interruptions and being plunged into darkness. Don’t expect a contemporary twist on the set design, this is as toasty as an episode of The Vicar Of Dibley but a slightly more elaborate set would’ve been fun, especially when the backdrop is a grand hotel well past its gilded heyday.
The cast ooze quality, unsurprising when the actors’ CVs include Drop The Dead Donkey, Poldark, Bergerac, Corrie, EastEnders, Emmerdale and, er, Blue Peter. Mark Curry was the biggest surprise – he was brilliant as Donald, the procedural pedant. It’s a role you could easily over egg, but Curry maintained that ‘nice but dim’ persona throughout.
Craig Grazey as militant leftie Eric was also superb – adopting the cause as his own vanity project, gathering groupies, sucking the adoration 0ut of them and taking his moment to preach to his adoring public. It was like watching Corbyn’s preparing to address Glastonbury. Slightly creepy but played to perfection.
The play is without doubt often hilarious, with some standout comic moments. At 90 minutes, I felt the first half was too long. It’s not that I have the concentration of a goldfish, or that I was desperate for a drink and a bumper bag of Minstrels (although, probably the latter). When the audience get ants in their pants and concentration starts to nosedive, it’s hard to keep the momentum – and this is a production that deserves your full attention.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Lovers of clever, comedy with the funniest real-life observations. You’ll never sit on a community group and look at the members the same way again.
Not for: If you’re prefer a modern twist on a classic, then this might not float your boat. Ten Times Table is reassuringly traditional.
Ten Times Table is on at the Theatre Royal Windsor until Sat 19 Oct.