Deborah Grant

Ten Times Table

04/02/20

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

This revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1976 meeting-based comedy begins well, the disparate characters all deftly drawn and the tedious nature of committee membership perfectly skewered. The time wasted on protocol (proposing and seconding a chairperson, for example, when there’s only one contender); the petty rivalries that develop into full-blown feuds; the horrible ‘conference’ rooms in once-grand hotels: all present and correct.

There are laughs a-plenty in the first act, albeit of the gentle variety. Robert Daws is entertaining as the  pragmatic Ray. The town pageant, commemorating The Massacre of the Pendon Twelve, is his pet project and he’s ostensibly in charge. But it soon gets hi-jacked by Marxist ideologue and local history teacher Eric (Craig Gazey) – and Ray’s wife, Helen (Deborah Grant), is far from happy. Soon, the committee is split into two warring factions, and the re-enactment of the battle seems destined to be as bloody as the original.

The play is at its best when it’s focus is the pedantry: Mark Curry’s Donald is a stickler for the rules, and his adherence to irksome rituals is always amusing. Elizabeth Power plays Donald’s more-astute-than-she-appears mother, Audrey, who also draws more than her share of laughs. The political satire is less effective – not detailed enough, perhaps, to really say much of import, too superficial to have a real impact. Still, after the first act, we head out for our interval drinks intrigued to see how the rising tensions will be resolved.

But the second act is a little disappointing, the farcical elements too ‘polite,’ the pay-off too trifling to really satisfy. The relationship between Eric’s two lovers – his live-in partner, Phillipa (Rhiannon Handy), and fellow committee member, Sophie (Gemma Oaten)  – is vapid and uninteresting, despite both women delivering good performances, so that I struggle to see what we’re supposed to take away from this strand of the story. And Harry Gostelow has a truly unenviable task, trying to make weirdly angry ex-soldier Tim (who’s called in to lead the resistance against Eric) even faintly believable. The revelations have all been over-signposted, so that the ridiculous ‘horse’ is entirely expected (and therefore not as funny as it might be) and the final bombshell robbed of any power.

Nevertheless, there is plenty to enjoy here, particularly if you’ve ever been subjected to the special kind of awfulness that only exists in an endless round of meetings…

3 stars

Susan Singfield

A Judgement in Stone

13/02/17

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

The Classic Thriller Theatre Company’s adaptation of A Judgement in Stone is Sophie Ward’s play. Her performance as Eunice Parchman, the illiterate housekeeper, is astounding: she shape-shifts into an awkward, secretive, resentful old woman, and it is her subtlety and nuance that lend the piece its credibility.

Based on Ruth Rendell’s novel, AJIS is a pretty standard murder-mystery. There’s a large house, a rich family, a slew of servants – and some policemen too. But some of its effectiveness  as a whodunnit is undermined by the fact that there are four victims, which so reduces the number of potential killers that there’s not much element of surprise.

The set is stunning: the attention to detail is incredible, especially considering that this is a touring production. The wooden panelling, the leaded windows: it’s all truly remarkable. This naturalistic single-room setting works well, helping to create a sense of both the period (the seventies) and the isolation of the domestic realm.  And the regular shifts between times are well-handled: the chronology is always clear. It’s a shame, however, that there are so many exits and entrances; scenes are never allowed to overlap; the past never coincides with the present. The  constant stage traffic feels disruptive and unnecessary, and isn’t always timed quite right. It feels a little old-fashioned, all this ‘then they go off, and then they come on’ stuff, and there are moments when we’re left with an empty stage, which doesn’t help the pace at all.

Some of the characterisation feels odd: Joan Smith, for example, isn’t credible at all. To be fair, the problem doesn’t seem to lie with Deborah Grant’s gutsy performance (she’s lively and engaging and very funny at times) but with who the character is supposed to be. Maybe the source material is at fault (I haven’t read Rendell’s novel), but it’s hard to believe she and Eunice would ever become friends. There’s no sense conveyed of what connects them.

Overall, this is an entertaining piece, with some strong performances from the cast. But there are a few misfires: it’s too easy to spot the supposed twists, and the whole thing feels a bit, well, staid. That said, the theatre is almost full, and those around us seem to be enjoying what they see. Why not give it a try and make up your own mind?

3 stars

Susan Singfield