THIS Alan Ayckbourn hotel drama is as much a mystery as a history play.

One of his least-known works, its novelty value lies with it being his sole piece set in his adopted home town of Scarborough, where it has been staged only once before, in its 1982 premiere.

Perhaps "Scarborough" in the title has put off other theatres since the last production at the New Vic in 1987; maybe the cost of a cast of 14 has been prohibitive or, more likely, theatres will go for a more obviously commercial choice, like the Garrick Theatre's new revival of his Christmas Eve play, Absurd Personal Singular, in London's first Ayckbourn show since he lifted his five-year ban on West End productions.

Set in the modern-day blur of Scarborough's Royal Hotel, Ayckbourn's theatrical sleight of hand is "based on variations on the original 1777 play by R B Sheridan", itself a pre-9pm watershed version of Vanbrugh's 1696 sex romp, The Relapse.

Ayckbourn's enterprising Shakespearean comic fools of the piece, Adrian McLoughlin's wise, jaundiced old porter Gander and Dominic Hecht's fast-learning, jaunty under-manager Pestle, oversee several intrigues across the centuries. They even steer the course as Katie Foster-Barnes's 21st century Holly and her fiancé (Ben Lambert) outwit Terence Booth's unctuous southern dealer over a manuscript of Sheridan's play and a possibly murderous wartime Major (Ben Fox) returns from a night at the opera with a seemingly different woman (the ever marvellous Sarah Moyle) purporting to be his wife.

The darker stories of a nerve-shattered heavy-drinking fighter pilot ((Richard Stacey) and an anxious young wartime wife (Foster-Barnes) awaiting news from abroad add the counter-balance of poignancy but are rudely barged out of the way by Sheridan's convoluted, unfunny tale of impecunious Tom Fashion.

So, is A Trip To Scarborough worth a trip to Scarborough? Yes, but be prepared to be frustrated too. This is one of only four adaptations in the Ayckbourn repertoire, and it serves best to show that he is far more humorous than the Eton Mess of comedy writing: the heavily-whisked but crumbling edifice of Restoration dramas. Nothing old and borrowed betters an early Ayckbourn scene of criss-crossing conversations involving mobile phones, whose overheard banality meets Ayckbourn's grumpy-old man scorn, and you wish for rather more of his knowing asides on Scarborough's foibles too.

  • A Trip To Scarborough, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, until January 5. Box office: 01723 370541.