TOMORROW Alan Ayckbourn will turn 80, a birthday that has prompted the Scarborough knight’s 83rd play, Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present.

Directed by the author, it will run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from September 4 to October 5, preceded by his revival of Season’s Greetings, a play not staged at the SJT since its premiere in 1980.

Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present was not originally in Ayckbourn’s 2019 diary. “I’d already written a play for this season, but I sensed it wasn’t right for the 80th birthday year,” he says. “I said to Paul [artistic director Paul Robinson], ‘I’m going to do a quick one’, and wrote it in around two weeks, whereas now it usually takes three to four months, even six when I’m thinking it over.”

Ayckbourn found himself reverting to earlier writing practices. “Within days, it was there and it was ready, which was exhilarating,”he says. “These days, I normally have a very, very slow morning and don’t start working before two, then work to six o’clock, but for this one I was doing five or six-hour days and was completely bug eyed by the end – and hoarse because I dictate my words.”

Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present opens on Mickey’s 80th birthday when he and his wife Meg are awaiting the arrival of their son, Adrian, and his latest fiancée, Grace. Adrian has, according to his parents, a certain reputation regarding women and they feel meek, mild-mannered Grace should surely be warned of this, but are things really as they appear? Be prepared, as birthday follows birthday, to be amazed as the truth is finally revealed about Adrian, the suburban closet Lothario.

Audiences should expect a play “as ingenious in its construction as any of his previous works”. “It goes backwards and ‘ravels’, rather than unravels,” says Ayckbourn. “After the first scene, you have the audience thinking how did we get here?”

The play takes in four birthdays in a family of four: the father’s 80th birthday; the mother’s 60th; the son’s 40th, etcetera. “It’s a family seen in reverse, going back through the years,” says Ayckbourn. “It’s a lighter play when normally now my plays sink into deeper waters. “ Ayckbourn’s 80th birthday summer season opens with Season’s Greetings, another Ayckbourn play rooted in celebrating a special occasion, in this case Christmas, a time when all hell could break loose, particularly if you happen to be trapped for several days with all your relatives and copious amounts of alcohol.

Take Neville and Belinda, for example, who are hosting their extended family over a long weekend. The presence of two tyrannical uncles – Bernard, whose ham-fisted annual puppet shows are a source of dread to young and old alike, and TV addict Harvey – promises to stir up trouble from the start. Then add to the mix broken toys, creaking marriages and guest novelist Clive, whose relationship with Belinda’s sister Rachel is going nowhere, causing him to look for love elsewhere.

“We set up our expectations for a wonderful family time at Christmas, but people don’t behave like that, and instead Christmas is a suicide note waiting to happen,” says Ayckbourn.

“You invite people you only see once a year and somehow you expect you’re all going to have fun, but it’s not a good idea to have that belief.”

Ayckbourn is no more enthusiastic about New Year’s Eve.

“People have the idea that maybe next year will be better, but when you get to the age of 40, you think, ‘oh come on, I say this every year’,” he says.

“What I do is go to bed and you can hear all the banging of the fireworks and the vague sound of Auld Lang Syne, and you think ‘it won’t get any better next year’.”

Each year, however, brings a new Ayckbourn play, sometimes more than one, and this year has another Ayckbourn landmark: the 60th anniversary of his playwriting debut, The Square Cat, his first professionally produced play, premiered at Scarborough’s Library Theatre on July 30, 1959.

Still more plays are on their way, so much still to be said. Many happy returns, Sir Alan.

Tickets for Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present and Season’s Greetings are on sale on 01723 370541 or at