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Ten Times Table

After all the fuss and stress of travelling to London and back through the floods, I decided I would treat myself with a trip out to the theatre. Malvern Theatres had another Alan Ayckbourn play on this week, which again was one I didn’t know – Ten Times Table. I made use of my Standby membership to buy a ticket for the Saturday matinee. It was clearly popular, as the best seat I could get was way back on row N in the stalls.

I was therefore surprised to see that, a little way in front of me there were three completely empty rows that were still vacant as the curtain went up. If those seats really were vacant, I would have been offered one of them when I phoned. It looked like a block booking had failed to turn up. Sure enough, five minutes into the play, there was a huge disturbance as two coach loads of people filed in, and tried to work out where they should be sitting. They kept crashing into the bin in the aisle, sitting in the wrong seats, and telling each other to be quiet in a loud whisper. The actors did a stalwart job of ignoring the commotion and carrying on with their lines, but it was really distracting.

I spoke to one of the incomers in the interval, and it turned out that there were 94 of them, in two coaches from near Cirencester, who were diverted by the floods and then stuck in gridlocked traffic for 45 minutes. They had rung through to the theatre to say that they would be a bit late, and were told that the performance would not be held for them. Probably the right call, but it was disruptive for everyone else when they did arrive.

Also at the interval, the five people sitting directly behind me were moaning loudly to each other that they couldn’t hear the dialogue. So they complained to the box office, who supplied them with amplifying headsets for the second half. Except that they couldn’t work out how to use them, and all I could hear was a loud hiss of static, turned up to maximum volume, for the first part of the second half until they gave up and worked out how to turn them off.

After all that, it was probably just as well that the play wasn’t all that good. Certainly not vintage Ayckbourn. It was more of a farce than a black comedy, poking fun at how committees worked. You got the feeling that Ayckbourn must have sat in one too many committee meetings and wanted to get his own back. But it lacked much of the subtlety and black humour of his best pieces, and although it was laugh-out-loud funny in places, it didn’t really make you think. There was a stereotypical Tory wife, and a young Marxist historian on a committee, trying to organise a local pageant, and you could anticipate the inevitable clashes. So I was very pleased that I’d only splashed out on a standby ticket – I would have been annoyed if I’d paid top whack.