I get the chance to chat to Mark Curry the longstanding star of TV, theatre and West End musicals about his role as Donald, the ‘grey man’ in Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table.
Ten Times Table is a comedy that shows us what happens what a group of volunteers come together to set-up a festival. It also provides an insight into how teams work and how different personalities impact the performance of the team.
Theatre as learning
Like every other theatrical production Ten Times Table must compress events that may in the real world have taken several months to unfold and expose personality traits in characterisations that also run the risk of being interpreted as caricatures. The talent of a playwright like Ayckbourn is to facilitate our suspension of belief to create a new reality on stage.
Creating that balance between the requirements of a theatrical production and the suspension of belief is what creates from the trainers’ perspective the opportunity for a catalyst for post-production discussion that can result learning, about situations, other people and ourselves.
The touring production in which former Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry stars is the inaugural production of the Classic Comedy theatre company, Bill Kenwright and the Classic Screen to Stage theatre company.
Lessons in teamwork
As Mark discusses the plot, he exposes everything I need as a trainer to make Ten Times Table work as a learning opportunity.
Mark explains that Ten Times Table very quickly shows how managing a team can be more about managing the egos of the team members than managing progress towards achieving the shared objectives.
There is says Mark a lot of truth in the saying that for a team to be successful the team members must leave their ego at the door and focus on creating something that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Theatre is only ever successful when the cast and crew leave their egos outside the rehearsal room. The focus must be on playing the part. There is a reason why actors refer to the roles they play in a play a film or musical. They are just part of something that is much bigger than the sum of the combined contribution of the part players.
Stars are just part players
It is true that every show has its stars, either because of the way the play is written, he says referring to the part he played in the hit West End musical Wicked a show that is very much focused on its two female lead characters.
But he explains the stars of that show know that they may be on stage the most, but their success is dependent on the other actors performing to the best of their ability.
The real stars never forget that they are just one part of the team, he says, referring to Dame Judi Dench. Everyone who he knows, says Mark, who has worked with Dame Judi, says that by the way she behaves in throughout every stage of a production demonstrates that she is acutely aware that her star only shines when everyone in the company, those back stage as well as those on stage also know that they have the opportunity to shine.
That confidence that you are on the team for a reason is what removes the need to worry about being out shone by your colleagues.
The grey part
The character notes for Donald, the part played by Mark are simply that Donald is a grey man, which he says could be interpreted in many ways.
As he says the phrase my imagination takes me to the Spitting Image caricature of Prime Minister James Major.
For Mark who has grown to quite like his character Donald is that dependable character that every team needs but who often goes unnoticed and undervalued.
Donald, he explains is a quiet man, the one who is totally reliable, he’ll always do everything he is asked to do. He might struggle with communication and relationships. Donald could be one of those people who doesn’t say much but is always worth listening to.
Others may see Donald as a habitual committee member who serves on several committees and knows how everything should be done and all the ways round the rules. He likes things done just so and enjoys highlighting the faults of others. If he was a referee in a rugby match, he would never call play on.
His joined this committee as a way of gaining more invitations to join more committees.
Every part is important
Some productions are star vehicles, designed with the intention of filling an auditorium. Ten Times Table is an ensemble piece, every character has their moment in the spotlight. This means than the characters are all on stage for most of the play. There are times when his character, Donald, has nothing to say. But that doesn’t mean, explains Mark that Donald has nothing to do.
When your character is on stage but has nothing to say they become part of the audience. The characters body language can help the audience to understand how that character is feeling about what the audience is witnessing and help to explain the characters next lines when they arrive.
Work place team members often forget that how they behave when the spotlight falls on one of their colleagues can expose the true character of the team and the genuine quality of the team.
Every member of the committee in Ten Times Table wants to see the festival be a success, but they all have their own vision of what success looks like. The winning version may not be the most sensible option but the one that is promoted by the person with the loudest most persistent voice.
Ten Times Table shows how when some one is fearful of a new or different idea instead of embracing it or attempting to learn about it the defences go up and the objective becomes one of discrediting the new idea.
There are so many models of what good teamwork looks like and what makes a team successful. But as a trainer I know that sometimes is useful to have a model of the negative for learners to explore.
Although I am sure that Alan Ayckbourn never intended it as such I am also confident that a team visit to see Ten Times Table will provide a team with a new vocabulary of characteristics that will enable them to identify, discuss and call out negative team behaviour when it happens or ideally just before it happens.
The current tour of Ten Times Table by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Robin Hereford and starring Robert Daws, Deborah Grant, Mark Curry, Gemma Oaten, Craig Gazey, Robert Duncan, Elizabeth Power, Rhiannon Handy and Harry Gostelow is touring the UK until the end of March 2020.