Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play Birthdays Present, Birthdays Past makes quite a demand on its actors.

There are only four of them, and while one plays four different characters, the others play different versions of themselves.

In Witham Dramatic Club’s latest production, all four of them rise superbly to the challenge.

The play runs backwards over four birthdays, the father’s 80th, mother’s 60th and son’s 30th and 17th.

Each is marked by a spotlit birthday card and the clever device of piling up the furniture at the back of the stage as if it had been used in the previous scenes and then bringing it forward each time.

While his wife Meg tries to shut him up, 80-year-old Mickey feels bound to mention his son’s "unnatural desires" to his son’s new girlfriend as well as Meg’s never-to-be-spoken-of 60th birthday party.

The significance, and truth, of his remarks gradually unravel as the play moves backwards.

Thus Terry Cole’s Mickey ranges from a chairbound geriatric to a salt-of the-earth 55-year-old, Amanda Bedwell’s Meg from a prim and gently scolding 75-year-old through a drunken 60-year-old to an almost trendy 50-year-old, and Edward Groombridge’s Adrian through various stages of timidity and uncertainty from 55 to 17.

All three are excellent but it is Lucy Parrett who commands the stage.  As Grace, she is all mousy and reserved (and northern), as Faith, disdaining but vulnerable (and posh), as the call girl Charity, brassy and seductive (and cockney), and as Hope, coy but determined (and 16).

It is a stellar performance that anchored an excellent production

- Ron Fosker