Ten Times Table: World Premiere Reviews

This page contains a selection of reviews from the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's Ten Times Table at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, in 1977. All reviews are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author. Extracts from reviews of the original London production can be found here.

Ten Times Table (by Robin Thornber)
"Alan Ayckbourn finds an impish glee in tickling our taboos. Death and its concomitant cant was one subject he purged in farce. This time, it's class struggle - or at least its spectre, the phoney war between the bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia. And he guys both middle-class snobbery and Marxist rhetoric with a compensatory lack of mercy.
The setting for
Ten Times Table is a series of committee meetings of local worthies planning a pageant re-enacting the malicious massacre, 200 years ago, of a group of agricultural agitators. For Eric (Desmond Maurer), the left-wing comprehensive teacher, it becomes a commemorative rally, with himself as rabble-rousing martyr. Nice middle-class Helen (Janet Dale) recognises this subversive infiltration by unsuitable people like shop-stewards, and the knives are out - literally when she enlists the mad militarist Tim (Christopher Godwin) on the side of law and disorder. And most sinister of all is the perpetual apology from the local property owner who sends a cheque for £5.
There's a manic climax on the day in the market square, with the forces of reaction and revolution both being routed by the mob, but the earlier parodies of procedural and personality clashes in committee are much more biting fun. There are deliciously malicious caricatures from Malcolm Hebden as the Chairman, desperately trying to run the committee democratically single-handed, Robin Herford as the earnestly ineffectual counsellor, and Alison Skilbeck as his shrewdly dithering octogenarian mother. Bonuses include an in-the-round setting in the Swan Hotel Ballroom, of which all you can say is congratulations to the designer, Helga Wood; a hilarious spoof programme for the folk festival; and directions by the author."
(The Guardian, 21 January 1977)

Ten Times Table (by Irving Wardle)
"Amid the opening fanfares for the Olivier Theatre last year, Alan Ayckbourn quietly shifted his company from Scarborough's public library to a handsomely converted secondary modern school, thus at last securing year-round premises and gaining 100 seats.
The upheaval has, if any thing, increased his prodigious output. Directing and sometimes lighting shows himself, he has continued to supply his company with something to act,
Ten Times Table being the latest of three plays due to appear in London this year.
Always a writer who sets himself technical obstacles, he has set this theatre-in-the-round piece in a committee room, changing the position of the table from scene to scene, but keeping the cast seated for most of the time. It sounds unworkable, but needless to say it works perfectly. It is the first Ayckbourn play l have seen in the round, and while his recent London shows have seemed to present characters with mere contempt, it is interesting to find one's sympathies powerfully engaged for everyone on the Scarborough stage floor. And
Ten Times Table contains characters it would be all too ease to despise.
The play follows the preparations for a folk festival: an idea dreamt up by a go-ahead shopkeeper and featuring a replay of the massacre of the "Pendon Twelve", an alleged group of eighteenth century tax reform radicals put down by the army. Not that that counts for much in the first act, where Ayckbourn is mainly establishing the discordant personalities of his committee, who cover all shades of local opinion from the smirking fence-sitting chairman and his overbearing wife to a Marxist teacher who sits glowering through the formalities in a mildewed donkey jacket. Convening in a hotel ballroom, apt at any moment to be plunged in darkness or rent with hammering from above, the members generate enough antagonism of their own to override all interruptions.
After those rather Prolonged introductions, the comedy proper gets under way with the division of the committee into two groups, respectively responsible for organising the working-class radical and military factions: at which point, all the suppressed hostilities of the first act find a historical outlet and pageant organisation turns into civil war.
At first, the Marxist Eric, with his factory contacts and debating skills, wins hands down leaving his royalist opponent (the chairman's wife) with hardly a recruit. She then co-opts a mad military dog breeder on to her side, preparing the way for a costumed finale with Eric declaiming to the Pendon populace, the drunken royalist leader toppling off his hobby horse, and the dog-breeder running amuck with a loaded revolver.
"I don't think anybody won", somebody observes after the debacle. Whether they did or not, the play succeeds brilliantly in raising some deep-rooted class antagonisms to the surface and releasing them into comic life, marked as so often in Ayckbourn by the mastery of simultaneous action. The biggest laugh in the last act, for instance, is reserved for a deaf old lady who has been playing an inaudible piano medley, unnoticed amid the hue and cry.
Other judgments must wait for the London premiere. Meanwhile, Janet Dale as the battling queen bee, Christopher Godwin as her trigger-happy ally, and others in the author's production are doing him proud."
(The Times, January 1977)

Ten Times Table (by John Barber)
"There is no stopping the dynamo that is Alan Ayckbourn. With two plays already on their way to London - one to the National Theatre - he has just opened a third so funny it will certainly join the others.
As if writing were not enough, Mr Ayckbourn is also an organiser of enormous resource. His new comedy,
Ten Times Table, had its debut at his new £36,000 Theatre-in-the-Round in Scarborough (replacing his old Library Theatre).
Here, as artistic director, he continues to run a permanent repertory company which tries out his own plays. Most of them have subsequently become London successes.
The new comedy gets off to a slow start, but soon displays Ayckbourn at the top of his form. He has an extraordinary gift for presenting character with a sharp satirical acerbity without ever losing, or failing to communicate, his affection for them.
We follow the planning and disastrous outcome of a mutton-headed committee of 10 as they plan their small town's first pageant. Battle is soon joined between the relentlessly patronising Grand Lady (Janet Dale) and her natural enemy, the truculent Marxist teacher (Desmond Maurer) with his two adoring women who, early on, see the chance to make this an occasion for Left-wing hot gossiping.
Exquisite and unusually original sketches of the local bigwigs fill in the picture, the dotty old lady, the sly and weedy councillor, the sozzling electrician, the tongue-tied costumier. As always in Ayckbourn, their private troubles are just as touching as they are funny.
But the brilliant idea that makes the play is the extravagant emergence of a gun-totting, militant Anti-Red (Christopher Godwin) who promises to give the Leftists a violent run for their money. The author's detachedly humorous view of the class conflict keeps the comedy bubbling and its perceptions fair to both sides.
The Theatre-in-the-Round situation is not helpful when the actors are mainly confined to seats round a table, and I was not persuaded that two intervals were necessary.
But, once again, Ayckbourn has hit on an ingenious new idea, one that allows him to debunk some of the political absurdities of the way we live now. He has directed his own play, and drawn from a sound company as many good performances as there are roles to play."
(Daily Telegraph, 20 January 1977)

Theatre (by Bernard Levin)
"I begin at Scarborough, where Alan Ayckbourn's latest comedy,
Ten Times Table (Theatre in the Round) prompts the ominous conclusion that this inexhaustibly fecund author, perpetually gravid with a new work even before being delivered of its predecessor, is now spreading the butter of his art very thin indeed on the bread of three acts. And not even the best butter, for Ten Times Table has neither the shrewdness and feeling of The Norman Conquests nor the ingenuity of Time and Time Again.
It concerns a small town called Pendon, which has decided to stage its own festival, the centrepiece being a pageant commemorating an eighteenth century outing in the vicinity known as "The Massacre of the Pendon Twelve." All the action passes in the room where the Festival Committee meets, and consists entirely of their deliberations, apart from a final scene on Festival Day itself.
As a plot, that is no less promising than the scheme of any Ayckbourn play, and much the same could be said of the members of his committee - the slow and miserable one with the collapsing off-stage life, the bearded Marxist who wants to turn the pageant into a revolutionary demo, the prim councillor with his deaf mother, the couple from Pendon's gin-and-tonic belt, even Mr Lorne Messiter, who never appears but instead sends apologies for his absence, and finally his resignation.
But there is a sad lack of inventiveness, and of the crisply funny dialogue we have come to expect of Mr Ayckbourn. Once the lines of the looming political clash have been marked out, there is nothing new to come, and the result, if not exactly leaden, is certainly far from silver. Only twice does
Ten Times Table come really alive; once in the last scene, when, the pageant having inevitably turned into a riot, the author broadens his play out into effective farce, and before that in a wonderfully funny outburst from the only really successful character, the hidebound ex-Captain with right-wing views barmier than the Marxist's own, who yearns to stage a real massacre of those playing the Pendon Twelve and their supporters ("Anyone wearing a jerkin - clout him"). Christopher Godwin plays this figure, twitch and all, with loony relish."
(Sunday Times, 23 January 1977)

New Ayckbourn Play Funniest Yet (by David Jeffels)
"Alan Ayckbourn's latest play,
Ten Times Table, premiered last night at the Theatre in the Round, Scarborough, is for me his funniest yet.
He proves once again that he is a sheer genius at analysing ordinary people in everyday situations. But
Ten Times Table, unlike most of his previous successes, gets away from marital complications and is based on a handful of individuals who form a committee to plan a town pageant.
The rights have already been bought for the play to be presented in the West End. And little wonder, for it shines as a box office bonanza - a laugh in almost every line in a brilliantly conceived script by this now internationally famous playwright who chooses to make his home in Scarborough.
Ten Times Table is highly original and simple in its dialogue and the superb cast play every phrase to the full.
As in most Ayckbourn plays, the characters have such enormous contrasts, the well-to-do Tory woman and the self-confessed Marxist youth, the fussy pompous councillor and the denim T-shirt clad girls. who all find themselves on the committee.
The audience become observers at the committee meetings around the Formica tables, listening to the arguments over the pageant which seeks to re-enact the martyrdom of 12 workers. But when an ex-Army captain comes on to the scene the mock battle becomes the real thing.
The brilliant direction is by Mr. Ayckbourn himself and the highly talented cast is Malcolm Hebden, Robin Herford, Janet Dale, Polly Warren, Desmond Maurer, Alison Skilbeck, Bob Eaton, Christopher Godwin, Diane Bull and Christopher Gray. Design for the production, which runs until February 5, is by Helga Wood."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, January 1977)

The Arts: Theatres (by Desmond Pratt)
"No. it is not the multiples of marital life, as one might have thought from past plays of the same writer (this is his 20th*).
It is about a committee of ten people gathered in the market town of Pendon to plan a folk festival, based on the supposedly old recorded massacre of agricultural workers by the military when they protested and asked for a pay rise.
The 12 good men and true of Pendon were massacred in the market place while their leader - John Cockle, was pleading their cause. It is this which is to be re-enacted for the festival.
Mr. Ayckbourn knows all the foibles of such committees and has all the craftsmanship to look upon the members with scepticism, yet at the same time still love each one of them. It is this rare human understanding, mock though it might be, that is his very own.
The committee explodes into a battleground of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in the shape of a bitchy, calculating, over observant wife (Janet Dale) of the placatory chairman (Malcolm Hebden), whose idea the festival is.
There is a youthful kennel maid (Polly Warren), who joins forces with the explosive university Marxist, the reincarnation of Cockles (Desmond Maurer), an 80-year-old mother, deaf, of course, of an ineffectual councillor (Alison Skilbeck and Robin Herford), an alcoholic husband whose marriage is breaking up (Bob Eaton), his always-absent wife and the Marxist's speechless girl-friend, a nice contrast here from Diane Bull.
Once again Mr. Eaton finds an incredible sympathy for the only sad part in the play, for in his almost sightless eyes and with his whisky cough, he shows facially how the mind of an inebriate can lose all comprehension of the world around him. This is a fine performance of a minor role.
Christopher Godwin is the farmer who regards the whole mock battle as a military manoeuvre. Ayckbourn's talented ingenuity starts always from a simple proposition, yet his characterisation is never malicious and remains light-hearted.
In the end the message is that no one wins, and the futility of such conflicts, personal and public, is seen quite clearly through the eccentricities when everyone returns to normality and the temperature is lowered.
But wait: there is a prophecy at the end of the play, for we learn that there was an earlier and even bloodier battle at Pendon, between the invading Romans and the Ancient Britons, the future stage evocation of which I leave to Mr. Ayckbourn's ever inventive pen, which never seems to run dry."
(Yorkshire Post, January 1977)

An Ayckbourn View Of A Town Pageant
"Alan Ayckbourn, with so much to be thankful for to Scarborough and its audiences, has handed something back - for which they, at least, will be grateful.
He has written a play inspired by last year's preparations for the Richard III Festival, sprinkled it freely with references to the Civic Society and the dreaded Leisure and Amenities Committee, and portrayed a council figure instantly recognisable only if you know your theatre in the round.
Ten Times Table will undoubtedly amuse and fill Westwood Theatre in the next two weeks - such is the curiosity about and the respect for Ayckbourn's work especially among the young, who shouted their acclaim at the end of last night's opening.
With at least one West End impresario present at the performance one must assume that the author, not content with a mere altruistic gesture to his second home, is still using the provincial springboard to make a London splash.
Can he do it again? Well, perhaps.
Ten Times Table splits, accidentally one feels, into two halves - the first the committee "talk" stage, a piece of straight comedy writing in which even Ayckbourn never quite overcomes the inevitable boredom generated by the stock figures of the British committee.
The second half moves into farce "action", and as it turns out the author's experiment in this field is so successful that he might well find an eventual hit.
The play revolves originally around members of the Pendon Folk Festival Committee planning the re-enactment of the "Massacre of the Pendon 12" who apparently owed nothing to the Tolpuddle martyrs except a little authenticity - which, naturally, Scarborough will ignore.
The chairman is good old Ray Dixon, everyone's friend (Malcolm Hebden). His wife Helen (Janet Dale) elegant, bitchy and indiscreet, yet brave and right-wing, is just nobody's.
Sophie (Polly Warren) happily breeds sheepdogs until she becomes hooked on the Marxist diatribes of the young duffle-coat-and-jeans figure Eric (Desmond Maurer). Laurence (Bob Eaton) needs the support of alcohol and stories of a broken marriage to endure the monotony of the meetings.
Philippa (Diane Bull) is a mousy little teacher living with Eric and the only one who knows how to handle his militance [sic].
Robin Herford plays the councillor, a stickler for procedure, though painfully unsuccessful when it comes to grants, and takes along his 80 year-old, conveniently deaf, mother (Alison Skilbeck) who volunteers to take the minutes and do "extra research" on the massacre.
Capt. Tim Barton (Christopher Godwin) is co-opted later with the most devastating results, and the tenth figure never quite make's it but sends a £5 donation - which Eric derisively claims he could have collected in five minutes round the local engineering shop floor.
Without an audience eager to laugh the committee stage of the play would have been dull. Malcolm Hebden is burdened with a long-winded explanation of the massacre which even he fails to make amusing, and Ayckbourn perhaps mindful of his formula for dragging humour out of well-meaning situations that go wrong, introduces bathos at ill-timed stages.
Laurence makes a rambling, irrelevant and embarrassing speech about the break-up of family life affecting the country - and it stifles the spontaneity of the audience. Helen, until then strong, fierce, and delightfully funny, is left to weep alone on stage because she is able to recruit only two soldiers for the militia.
Then, just when it appeared that only the interventions of mother, beautifully observed in every detail by Miss Skilbeck, could lift the play beyond the ordinary, it changed gear.
Here was Ayckbourn beginning to say something. The committee had divided malevolently into right and left. Eric the Marxist was marshalling his support with tee-shirts and folk songs; Helen was drilling the Right with the recruitment of Captain Tim, complete with sheepskin jacket, wellies, Army issue pullover and a revolver under his pillow.
And when Captain Tim twitched violently in the direction of the chairman and declared war on the rabble - "the scum who during war-time would have been hanged" - one knew, at last, that Ayckbourn was on course.
Back to his old formula of dragging the worst out of people to get the biggest laughs he still had much to thank Godwin for. Despite impeccable performances in the committee stage by Herford, Skilbeck, and Dale, it was Godwin who found the sustained momentum to raise
Ten Times Table above low-key comedy."
(Scarborough Evening News, 20 January 1977)

*Ten Times Table
is Alan Ayckbourn's 21st play.

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.