The Mill at Sonning - Ten Times Table
2nd August to 22nd September 2018
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Let battle commence
Ayckbourn's committee from hell clash at Sonning
Ten Times Table, at The Mill at Sonning, until Saturday, September 22
After considerable success and with 20 plays under his belt, Alan Ayckbourn was waiting to move into the new Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough.
He had no new play, but amused himself by attending the many committee meetings being held to approve and finance his grand new theatre. After watching the antics and arguments of the committee members and making several notes, he sat down over the Christmas period in 1976 and wrote Ten Times Table about a committee trying to organise a local historical pageant.
The new play opened in January 1977 in Yorkshire and transferred to London in 1978. It has few real jokes, but the comedy comes from the way ordinary people use their words to make their often unintentionally hilarious points.
If Harold Pinter was the master of dramatic and modern dialogue and the use of natural cliché, Ayckbourn is surely the comedy equivalent.
Set in the Swan Hotel Ballroom, the 10 organising committee members were due to sit around the long table, although a few of them never actually turned up.
Stuart Fox played Ray, the chairman constantly trying to control the meetings and never quite succeeding, in a well-realised character study.
Antony Eden as schoolteacher and Marxist Eric, was constantly in battle with chairman's wife Helen – a strong performance by Louise Jameson as a true blue, bombastic woman who sees 'Reds' everywhere and decides to oppose Eric.
Nick Waring played Tim, a quiet man until fired up by Helen, when he becomes the aggressive, belligerent Captain Barton.
Ben Porter and Ian Targett added to the complex characters around the table and Elizabeth Power had fun with the aged Audrey, who was not quite as silly as she appeared.
Rhiannon Handy did very well portraying quiet-as-a-mouse Philippa, a young woman sitting quietly in the background saying and doing very little – a difficult characterisation to pull off, but pull it off this production did.
Sarah Lawrie played Sophie, who is impressed by Nick, and James Dance had a small but effective part dressed as a soldier.
Always a popular play in the Ayckbourn collection, this production moved along smoothly – until the frantic scenes towards the end, when carefully orchestrated chaos ensued.
Robin Herford's direction was clear and precise, with only the occasional staged feature.
It all moved along at a good, natural pace, with the dialogue providing comedy throughout.
Michael Holt's set design was functional enough and typical of a suburban hotel ballroom.
There is a review from the Maidenhead Advertiser ("each [character] is perfectly realised with expert comic timing by the strong cast... often hilarious, never less than witty and with some standout comic moments").