Review: Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present - Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, is on in Scarborough.Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, is on in Scarborough.
Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present, is on in Scarborough.
A backwards farce is what Alan Ayckbourn wanted to write. A very funny treatise on fake news writ small and personal, along with a thoughtful notion of how men can emerge as winners from the #MeToo movement is what he has ended up with.

A play that moves backwards over the course of four birthdays; an 80th, a 60th, a 30th and an 18th of different members of the same family, this latest Ayckbourn isn’t actually about birthdays but about perception. While he plays with our perception of time, the characters deal with shifting perceptions of each other.

Written in the playwright’s 80th birthday year, it contains little in the way of insight into the man himself and far more into the character of Adrian played as a huggable teddy bear of a man by an often bemused Jamie Baughan. Teddy bear though he may appear, his father Micky, played by Russell Dixon, believes him to be a tiger in the bedroom. A Jekyll and Hyde, Superman character who removes his clothing and casts off the Clark Kent cape to become a sexual superhero.

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Review: Malory Towers - York Theatre RoyalWe see the truth – and the reason for the misconception of his sexual prowess by his father – over the course of the four birthdays. Naomi Petersen is given a quartet of roles as a church mouse girlfriend, Adrian’s former wife, a prostitute and a nervous lovelorn teenager. She does brilliantly with each one, inhabiting the nervous Grace particularly hilariously and in each incarnation teaching us something new about Adrian and the reason for his father’s mistaken beliefs about his ‘appetites’.

There is plenty of joy to be had by the audience as the penny drops and we discover the truth of the characters during one scene, having heard the lie about them in the previous scene.

As the play ends and the misunderstandings about Adrian begin, Ayckbourn spells out a way men might be actual superheroes in an age of Harvey Weinsteins and Donald Trumps and gives us a surprisingly contemporary piece of work with much to say about the world today.


To October 5.