Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present: History

Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present is Alan Ayckbourn's 83rd full-length play which premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in September 2019. The play opens during an 80th birthday party recognising the fact it was premiered during Alan Ayckbourn's own 80th birthday year.
Behind The Scenes: Ecraf
Alan Ayckbourn has admitted Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present was inspired by an idea he has had since the 1960s of writing a backwards running farce called Ecraf (Farce spelt backwards). It seems likely this will be the closest he gets to writing the oft-mentioned farce.
Written during October 2018, Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present was not initially intended as Alan Ayckbourn's new play for 2019. During the spring of 2018, he had written the piece Men, Meals & Me which was set to be his premiere for the Stephen Joseph Theatre's 2019 summer season. However, a combination of Alan not feeling it was quite right for his 80th birthday and issues with scheduling led Alan to write another play in October with a reduced cast of four people to run in a limited repertory with a separately cast revival of his classic work Season's Greetings.

Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present is centred around Adrian, son of Micky and Meg, and his perceived reputation as a Lothario. Over the course of four celebrations - Micky's 80th birthday, Meg's 60th birthday, Adrian's 30th birthday and Adrian's sister's 18th birthday - it is revealed the truth may not be quite so straightforward. The play encompasses 38 years and runs backwards in time with each act moving back a number of years; previously Alan has shown characters moving back in time in Time Of My Life. The play has also been described by the playwright as a companion to A Brief History Of Women in both being plays in which the central male character is defined by his unusual relationships with the women who pass through their lives.
Behind The Scenes: Like A Virgin
The actor Jamie Baughan - who played Adrian in the world premiere - felt his character was tremendously sad and lonely. On first experience, this does not necessarily seem obvious, but if the play is run 'backwards' (i.e. time runs normally), it becomes apparent Adrian is a lonely, sad and frustrated man. It's also arguable that this 'Lothario' has never had sex - or at least certainly not satisfying sex - during his entire life and his single longest relationship is a marriage which has essentially been doomed from the wedding night!
Rehearsals were unusual in that Alan admits he lost a measure of confidence in the play as it progressed and was unsure as to whether it would be a success. He later acknowledged the reason for this was the unusual structure of the play; whilst ostensibly is almost a farce as we discover what has led to the surprise which finishes the first scene. However, there are shadows beneath the laughter of the play, which came to light during the rehearsal process and the actor playing Adrian, Jamie Baughan, found him a particularly sad character to portray. Fortunately, Alan was reassured about the play almost immediately after it opened due to the extremely positive audience reception and practically constant laughter. Due to the nature of the play's structure, the play does feel very light on first viewing but on repeated viewings, a certain sadness can creep in, although not at the expense of laughter as audience feedback repeatedly noted the third scene was much loved due to its practically continuous laughter.

Although it features a cast of four, there are actually seven characters in the play with one of the actors playing the four very different women in Adrian's life; a similar device Alan used previously in
Joking Apart for the women in Brian's life - although there they are deliberately intended to each share a resemblance to each other.

Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present premiered on 4 September at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and was, appropriately, marketed as a celebration of the playwright's 80th birthday and the 60th anniversary of his playwriting debut.
Behind The Scenes: Men, Meals & Me
Alan Ayckbourn originally planned to premiere a play called Men, Meals & Me for summer 2019, before writing Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present for his anniversary year.
Reviews were generally extremely good with four star reviews from The Guardian, The Times and The Stage. It was praised for its ingenuity, stage craft and its humour. The cast all came in for praise particularly Naomi Petersen, who played the four women with whom Adrian has a 'relationship' with. Kevin Jenkins clever stage designs were also singled out.

Following it successful Scarborough run, the play went on a short in-the-round tour to The New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and The Old Laundry, Bowness-on-Windermere. There are currently no plans by the SJT to tour it further.

Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present was published by Samuel French during 2020.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.