Ten Times Table

March 29, 2018 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆   Accomplished

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 28 – Sat 31 Mar 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Ten Times Table, Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s first production of their 75th anniversary year, displays commendable skill and attention to detail in a production that is both funny and involving.

Alan Ayckbourn’s 1977 tale of a committee organising a historical pageant that soon fractures into competing groups, combines his trademark social observation and dark comedy.

Pat Hymers, Adrian Smith, Kelly Simmonds and Kevin Rowe. Pic: Graham Bell.

The story of a well-meaning civil project that spirals into conflict and potential violence may seem familiar to anyone who has seen his 2011 play Neighbourhood Watch (presented by the Makars in last year’s Fringe) – and that more recent work is a more satisfactory piece all round.

However, Ten Times Tables still has a great deal to recommend it. It was the first play staged at the current Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough and can be seen as Ayckbourn’s revenge for having to take part in endless consultations during the planning stage. The depictions of the pettifogging and arcana that characterise such situations will be instantly familiar to anyone who has spent time on committees, but are presented with enough style and humour to involve anyone who hasn’t.



Director Val Lennie gives what could be a very static situation in the play’s first act enough life and variety to give the piece constant forward momentum, and also handles the abrupt change in tone after the interval with aplomb. At times the pace slackens a little, but this – like a couple of isolated unsure moments with dialogue – will surely be ironed out after the first night.

anchor

The evocation of time and place is subtly done, with the solid set effortlessly bringing the function room of a down-at-heel hotel to mind. The costumes, meanwhile are excellent – not just the historical ones for the pageant, but a variety of outfits for the cast that are suitable without going down the road of screaming ‘look at me, I’m retro’ as so many such productions are wont to do.

Beverley Wright, Kevin Rowe, Adrian Smith, Stephanie Hammond, Euan McIntyre, Pat Hymers. Pic Graham Bell

Pat Hymers, as committee chairman Ray, has to anchor the first act, and his portrayal of a man watching his pet project disintegrate before his eyes is a beautifully observed piece of comic acting. Lynn Cameron as his wife Helen, who sees herself as the guardian of tradition and decency, is a suitably troubled figure – exemplified by one chilling moment when she suddenly transforms herself into a very recognisable politician of the 1970s.

The way that such projects are often hijacked for other ends is also demonstrated by the character of Eric, a left-wing teacher who is very keen to stress how everyone should be treated with dignity while treating those closest to him with no consideration whatsoever. Euan McIntyre portrays Eric’s growing identification with Jonathan Cockle (the supposed agricultural martyr who is the focus of the pageant) and incipient megalomania with energy and an odd charm.

suitably excruciating

Donald, the self-important local councillor who is on every committee imaginable, is given suitably excruciating life by Kevin Rowe, while Beverly Wright’s timing as his aged mother Audrey is spot on. Stephanie Hammond and Kelly Simmonds give the two women in Eric’s life more believability than they might have thanks to sympathetic, well judged performances.

Kevin Rowe, Euan McIntyre, Pat Hymers, Adrian Smith. Pic: Graham Bell

Derek Ward gives a manic but utterly convincing quality to paranoid farmer Tim, who is largely responsible for the second act’s move into more peculiar waters. Adrian Smith’s disappointed dipsomaniac Lawrence also has a believably crumpled air that adds pathos to his comedic moments.

There is one point involving this character that exemplifies what is so good about this production. Lawrence has a speech where he effectively sees his entire life unravelling in front of him. Smith handles it very well, but what is truly impressive is the way the entire cast are involved. Their various reactions of uneasy humour, helpless concern and squirming embarrassment are beautifully played and utterly authentic, supporting the dialogue without overshadowing it.

It is this tremendous ensemble feel, helped by a director who knows exactly how to use the cast and the space, that overcomes any minor glitches in the staging. However ridiculous the outcome may be, these characters are presented as real people, and the result is all the funnier because of it.

Running time 2 hours 20 minutes including one interval
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 28 – Saturday 31 March 2018
Weds – Fri evenings: 7.30 pm; Matinee only, Sat: 2.30 pm.
Tickets and details: https://www.ept.org.uk/shows/show=201803tenxtable.html

EPT Website: www.ept.org.uk.
Facebook: @EdinburghPeoplesTheatre.
Twitter: @EPeoplesTheatre.

ENDS

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