Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present Review

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough – until 5th October 2019

Reviewed by Sara Garner


Alan Ayckbourn’s most recent and actually his 83rd play is a resounding success.

It is a comedy play set over four scenes, individually set during a birthday of each of the family members.

We see the idea of ‘effect and cause’ being explored over these four scenes, but in reverse chronological order. From the fathers 80th birthday, back to the unseen sisters 18th.

A mixture of misunderstanding, a well meaning lie and bad timing create a wonderfully funny but inaccurate persona and reputation for the son Adrian, played fantastically by Jamie Baughan. Adrian is a man who has spent his life trying to deal with and understand women.

The scenes change from hilarious to seriously emotional with ease, and as we get to know the characters more and more it just gets better and better. So much so in fact that the audience starts to laugh in anticipation of the next hilarious moment.

Pure genius – the writing, the direction and especially the acting.

Russell Dixon was stand out as Micky with some of the best lines but worst wigs (almost certainly intentionally) of the play.

Jemma Churchill equally fantastic as Meg and who also previously appeared in another of my favourite plays.

Finally Naomi Peterson who had to play a different character for each scene. She does this so incredibly well that if you didn’t have prior knowledge you may not have realised.

Fascinatingly the set changes were carried out in such a choreographed way that they were appreciated by the audience in that they received a round of applause each time. I had seen a similar style used previously but that was just an irritating distraction. This was more artistic, and gave a fascinating understanding of the way the simple but clever set worked.

This is a wonderful play which enraptured the audience, making everyone laugh and smile throughout, but also engrossed with the perfectly balanced emotional scenes where we saw the meat of the interpersonal relationships within the family.

I cannot recommend this play highly enough.