Ten Times Table (1977)

This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn as an introduction to the publication Joking Apart And Other Plays.

Just Between Ourselves, Ten Times Table and Joking Apart could be described as the first of my 'winter' plays. Unlike their predecessors, which were all written in late spring for performance during the Scarborough summer season, these three were all composed in December for performance in January. I mention this not because I am a strong believer that the time of the year wields some astrological influence over what one writes (though I would never rule this out either). In a more practical way, though, this shift of my established writing pattern did, to some extent, alter my priorities. By the winter of 1975-6, the Scarborough Theatre-in-the-Round Company which I direct had made its first tentative steps towards a year-round playing pattern. This had long been an ambition of mine. After twenty years or so of being exclusively a summer rep. we were at last establishing some sort of deeper permanency within the town. To encourage and develop our much needed winter audience, I launched my latest play, Just Between Ourselves, at a time when it would, we hoped, do the most good for the box office...
Ten Times Table, written exactly a year later, over Christmas which I missed completely that year, undoubtedly draws for its subject matter on experiences gained during 1976. We were due in October of that year to transfer from our present theatre home, the first floor of the Scarborough Public Library, to our new temporary housing, the far more commodious ground floor of the old Boys' Grammar School. For me, this entailed attending an interminable series of repetitive (and largely non-productive) committee meetings to finance and facilitate the move. Up till then, I had had little to do with committees. Little by little, their procedures and protocols began to intrigue me. And particularly the people involved and the way they used these procedures. Put a man behind the wheel of a car, they say, and his personality really starts to show itself. Similarly, a committee soon separates the goats. Apparent strong men weaken. Non-entities inherit the floor. Silent men gabble on inarticulately and to no point. Talkative men grow silent and merely emit low indecipherable moans of dissent and agreement. Ten Times Table is a study of the committee person. It breaks a pattern for me in that I leave my usual domestic setting for the more public surroundings of the ballroom of the quite awful Swan Hotel, where everyone at some time must have stayed, much against their better judgement. The play could be described, I suppose, as a predominantly sedentary farce with faintly allegorical overtones. In more innocent days, it would probably have been sub-titled a romp. Certainly, if in Just Between Ourselves I moved towards maturity, in Ten Times Table I reverted, happily, to my playwright's childhood.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.