Genius at work: Ayckbourn committee comedy hits the Marx

BELLA BARTOCK’s visit to the CODA production in Selsdon of Ten Times Table brings back many happy memories

Rallying to the cause: Graham Callison, as Marxist Eric, and Deborah Liu (Philippa) in Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table

I don’t know about the Massacre of the Pendon Twelve. By the time we got to an hour before curtain-up of CODA’s latest production, I was contemplating the Massacre of the Selsdon One.

Let me explain.

We’d decided, my old school chum, Claudia de Boozy and I, to leave the Roller behind for the night. Young Kenny, who’s not as young as he once was, has been muttering under his breath about ULEZ for the past few weeks. I haven’t paid attention to him. I never do.

I told Kenny that I am sure that Mr Rolls and Mr Royce will have ensured that our lovely, red leather-upholstered Silver Shadow was entirely “compliant” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), together with 90per cent of all the other vehicles on our roads. But on this one occasion, to put him at ease (and to allow him to watch the United match on the new ultra HD television we have just had delivered from Richer Sounds), I would take the No64.

More fool me.

I was soaked as I waited for the bus. This was no April shower, more like a Malaysian monsoon. Climate change has arrived in South Croydon.

Then Claudia called on her mobile. In her rush to get on to the platform on her way to meet me, she’d slipped and fallen on that silly bridge they have across East Croydon Station. “What am I supposed to do?” I said to her, very concerned. “You said you would bring the box of Black Magic with you. I am halfway there and won’t be able to get anything until the interval.”

Passionate about a pageant: CODA’s Sarah H Gordon as Helen and Susie Timms, as Audrey, the councillor’s mother

I was furious with her. There would be no Raspberry Heaven for me this evening.

It’s been a long while since I was last at the Selsdon Hall. CODA, the Croydon Operatic and Dramatic Association, who are performing Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table until Sunday, say it is their first time there for 15 years. Ah, how time flies.

I wondered aloud, as I passed the box office to collect my arts correspondent’s complimentary ticket, how long it might be before CODA returns to the Fairfield Halls. At first, no one answered, although one young girl, who could barely be out of the Lower V form, gave me a funny look and said, “Where’s that?”, as if she’d never heard of it.

The downpour and Claudia’s slip had left me all a’fluster, and I forgot to get myself a pre-show schnifter. I took my seat and proceeded to drip rainwater on to the floor for the whole of the first half. People in Row 10 or 11 must have heard it – they probably thought it was a bit of the production design, to make the meeting room on stage seem even more dilapidated, although the stage crew had already done a very good job.

I do love a bit of Ayckbourn, as I’ve always said since he and I had a bit of a fling in Scarborough during the Summer of Love in 1967.

Al, as I like to call him, has been a utter gentleman about it, the soul of discretion, and has never mentioned it at all. But we have the memories.

I often wonder if there’s a little bit of me in some of his plays. There’s certainly a lot of him in Ten Times Table, where he is Ray, the poor chairman of a local committee, caught in the middle of two fractious factions, trying not to get mown down in the cross-fire.

Big show: Dominic O’Shea (centre, with rocking horse) as Lawrence, performing as the Earl of Dorset in the pageant scene with the CODA ensemble

Al based the play on his own experience of local politics which he encountered on a committee when trying to organise a new theatre. In cash-strapped Croydon in 2023, CODA have chosen well with this production that, in genius Ayckbourn style, shows us at our often hilarious worst.

All deftly directed by Michael Hall – a 10-hander Ayckbourn comedy can take all the choreography of a Swan Lake ballet – David Sanders plays Ray with all the twitchiness one might expect from someone caught in the No Man’s Land of all-out class war.

Ray’s committee is supposedly meeting to plan a small town’s historic pageant. But for right-on Marxist Eric, played by Graham Callison, it must be a people’s rally to commemorate the heroic struggle in the Massacre of the Pendon Twelve.

Of course, this is entirely unnacceptable to the prim and proper suburbanites Helen, played here by Sarah H Gordon in her fur coat, and Tim, played by Thomas Skinner.

It was not long after we encounter Councillor Donald Evans, the committee man’s committee man, punctilious and pedantic as played by Alfie Bird, that I was wondering how many sessions at the Town Hall Chamber Bird had attended for his character research, and who his portrayal might be based upon.

I have my own thoughts, and it might just be a slightly florid-faced chap in short-sleeved shirt and tie… Although, as far as I am aware, that particular council figure has never brought his mother along to a council meeting as Councillor Evans does in the play, with Audrey played by Susie Timms.

As with so many of Al’s great plays – and he’s written more than 80 since I was his muse – Ten Times Table is very much an ensemble piece, depending on clever performances from the whole cast, which here includes Hollie Heavens as Sophie, Dominic O’Shea (Lawrence) and Deborah Liu (Philippa).

I can’t, for fear of plot spoilers, say much more about how the pageant/rally turns out, but if you imagine a committee of Croydon not-so-worthies putting on, say, a Borough of Culture event, and planning to have a party in a brewery, you wouldn’t be far wrong.

As the final curtain came down, I was left with the feeling that Al never disappoints, and that CODA have done well to bring Ten Times Table to the stage here in Croydon.

And as I got soaked again while waiting for my bus home, standing by a Croydon bus stop with no shelter, I resolved to have a word with Kenny about checking that the Roller is properly ULEZ complaint.

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1 Response to Genius at work: Ayckbourn committee comedy hits the Marx

  1. Thanks. We went last night – we’d booked before reading Bella’s review – and had a brill time. The rocking horse and those trousers!!! We decided to forgo the rainy wait for the bus which made for a much less stressful evening.

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