PLAYWRIGHT Alan Ayckbourn will launch his debut novel, The Divide, at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre next Thursday, coinciding with the premiere run of his 83rd play, Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present.

“This is a new experience for me,” says Ayckbourn, who turned 80 in April. "Eighty-three plays, God knows how many nerve-racking theatre press nights and now this. The very first book launch of my very first novel – Lord, the things you take on at 80.”

The book launch will take place from 4.30pm to 6.30pm, two days after the SJT press night for Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, written to mark the Scarborough knight becoming an octogenarian.

Published by PS Publishing, The Divide is a fable that unflinchingly examines a dystopian society of brutal repression, forbidden love and seething insurrection.

In the aftermath of a deadly contagion that has decimated the population, contact between men and women has become fatal. Under the dictates of an unseen authoritarian leader known as The Preacher, an unthinkable solution has been enforced.

Originally written as a “narrative for voices”, The Divide was first performed in a reading at the SJT in 2015, then at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2017 and at London’s Old Vic in 2018.

The launch will be free to attend, held in between the September 12 matinee performance of Ayckbourn’s revival of Season’s Greetings and the evening staging of Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present.

Ayckbourn will be on hand to sign copies of the book, available at the event in a hardcover at £20, discounted from £25. Subsequently, a paperback and a signed slipcased hardcover will be made available.

In addition, he will host a gala evening, 80 Years Young, on Sunday, September 29 from 6pm, presenting extracts from a selection of his plays for families and children, read by actors from the SJT’s summer repertory company.

This celebration of the 80th birthday of the SJT’s Director Emeritus will feature the Season’s Greetings cast, Matt Addis, Eileen Battye, Rachel Caffrey, Bill Champion, Andy Cryer, Michael Lyle, Frances Marshall, Mercy Ojelade and Leigh Symonds, and Jamie Baughan, Jemma Churchill, Russell Dixon and Naomi Petersen, from Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present. SJT youth theatre actors Ruby Hilton and Hugh Stanway will complete the company, accompanied by Denis King at the piano.

The evening’s extracts will be taken from plays ranging from 1988’s Mr A’s Amazing Maze Plays to 2004’s Miss Yesterday, plus a few lesser-known earlier works, such as 1960’s Dad’s Tale and 1962’s Christmas v Mastermind.

Ayckbourn says of his plays for families and young people: “Many of them I consider amongst my best, most innovative work and today they still remain amongst my favourites.”

Tickets cost £15, £35 or £75 (a price that includes a programme, glass of prosecco and post-show reception). All the proceeds will be invested in the next generation of talented writers and directors at the SJT.

Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present opened earlier this week with a plot that travels backwards, built around Micky’s 80th birthday and revelations about his son, Adrian, a suburban closet Lothario.

“It’s a lighter play when normally now my plays sink into deeper waters,” reveals Ayckbourn, who says “it ‘ravels’, rather than unravels’.

“Usually in plays, we see the cause first and the effects follow on, but in this case, we see the effect first and our first question is, just how did we get there?

“It’s really a story about a man who’s trying to deal with and understand women; it's a sort of companion piece to my 2017 play, A Brief History Of Women.”

Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, will run in rep until October 5. Box office: 01723 370541 or at

Charles Hutchinson