New York | 2h 30m | Already closed

A Brief History of Women

From 32 critic and 46 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Entertaining, Clever, Funny, Great staging

About the show

Part of 59E59's 2018 'Brits Off Broadway' series, Alan Ayckbourn's new, gently touching comedy in four parts follows a man's romantic progress over 60 years. More…

'A Brief History of Women' tells the story of an unremarkable man and the remarkable women who loved him, left him, or lost him, and of the equally remarkable old manor house that saw and heard it all happen. From his first unsettling encounter as a very young man in 1925, to an unexpected reunion late in life, 'A Brief History of Women' charts Anthony Spates's life, with all its fireworks, loves, and losses.


"In 'A Brief History of Women,' the brilliantly inventive Alan Ayckbourn has created a story which covers the entire life of one man but also delineates the changes in Britain over 60 years, a fateful period of time when life changed a great deal from an aristocratic society to a more democratic and equitable one both for men as well as women who were under the husbands' thumbs when the play begins. Though Ayckbourn's hero Anthony Spates react little to the forces that buffet him ..." Full Review


"This production is brilliantly written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn and features a superb cast...Each of the four parts in the play is wonderfully executed with seamless transitions...Ayckbourn's richly crafted dialogue is delivered with impeccable timing...'The Brief History of Women' is a completely entertaining show while it provides a significant perspective of humanity. This is an important time in society to explore the roles of women and what affects them. Don't miss it!" Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“A profound and humorous delight. Its symbolic nuances surprise and its deep parallels of characterization with casting weave magnificently. The play which is comedic yet poignant reminds us that our arc of personal history is often crafted into a tapestry of subtle wonder...We witness the humorous and poignant evolution of protagonist Spates (a stunning performance by Anthony Eden whose process of aging is seamless and stealthy)....The cast rounded out by the excellent Pears is fabulous.” Full Review

Front Row Center

"A master wordsmith and plot crafter, Ayckbourn pulls us ito this 4 chapter story and weaves his magic well before we figure out exactly what he is up to...The performances here are all exceptional. These are actors who have worked with Ayckbourn before and they know the drill. You will be asked to suspend your own belief and enter into the Ayckbourn world...Another treasure of an evening at the theatre thanks to Alan Ayckbourn." Full Review

The New York Times

"'A Brief History' can at times feel as broad and overstated as the children's Christmas pantomime that figures crucially in one of the plot lines. Yet just when you start to think that the old master is on autopilot, he turns a sharp corner with a wrench that surprises you into spontaneous tears or giggles or, as often as not, both....The second half features an absolutely heart-rending moment that sounds as if it should be merely silly...Be warned: It is likely to induce stifled sobs." Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

“Neither brief nor a history of women...One of the pleasures of an evening of Ayckbourn is relishing his superb actors in the multiple roles they are called upon to play...While the roles are juicy and the dialogue entertains, there are a few dry spots along the way. You may find the ending predictable, but you will likely still be moved by it. Ayckbourn is one of the few playwrights who does well directing his own work. Even when he is not at the top of his form, he is worth seeing.” Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"A delightfully clever and intricately designed sweet-sad-comical-romantic work...Performed by the tight-knit collective of six splendid actors...Not about anything grand and important. But it is a sublimely realized juggling act, in which the seemingly random juxtaposition of the characters turns into a perfectly arranged set of falling dominos. Likewise, the tone moves effortlessly between the wildly comic and heartfelt tear-inducing moments." Full Review

The Wall Street Journal

“As usual with Ayckbourn, ‘A Brief History of Women' arises from an ingenious structural premise...Ayckbourn compresses each ‘episode’ of his complex plot into a single scene that plays out in something close to real time, thereby intensifying its emotional impact. A few of the plot lines are explicitly farce-flavored, but shadows of melancholy are rarely far from view...Ayckbourn’s direction is understated and discreetly effective...Madly funny and touching enough to draw tears.” Full Review


"Brilliantly written and beautifully acted, 'A Brief History of Women' engages both heart and mind...There is an organic wholeness to the production, especially remarkable given the time-shifting structure and the persistence of only one character. The cast quickens the colorful personalities they play even though each figure has only one (albeit meaty, except for the last) scene." Full Review

Off Off Online

"Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play has the hallmarks of the best plays in his vast repertoire...Six actors play all the parts, and they are superb, although more successful in some roles than others. Dixon’s wildly fey dramatics teacher is terrific...Pears is full of vigor whether he’s the kilted war hero or a 1960s antiwar rebel...Even if at times it feels a tad schematic, ‘A Brief History of Women’ is a delightful entry in the playwright’s extraordinary body of work. There is no one like him.” Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

"For all the feminist vibrations suggested by its title, 'A Brief History of Women' isn't interested in polemics…The tone is consistently comic, sometimes bordering on farce, yet the smiles induced only now and then erupt into loud laughter...Ayckbourn consistently makes what everyone says interestingly human. In fact, you're likely now and then to feel a tug at your heartstrings…Changing costumes and wigs to reflect the…years…they conjure up a panoply of precisely calibrated British types." Full Review


"Has a familiar undertow of darkness beneath its comedic surface. The first parts reveal marital abuse beneath the jazz age glitter and the lingering distrust and pain of war...As usual the playwright, wearing his director's hat, has assembled a splendid team...This cast is more than up to providing the audience with the fun of spotting a previous character's next incarnation...Expect plenty of surprising turnabouts." Full Review

Time Out New York

"The title of Ayckbourn's wistful a bit of a trick. The play isn't brief and its barrels of history are not exactly of women...Ayckbourn is past master of theatrical innovation...One of the key pleasures of 'A Brief History' lies in admiring a peak craftsman at work. Everything fits together beautifully, from the third-person limited perspective to the graceful counterbalancing of scene against scene...A strong cast, particularly the superb ranter Dixon...and Shuttleworth." Full Review

Epoch Times

"Eden does a fine job as Anthony. He’s a sort of everyman...Unfortunately, while doing quite well in the later scenes, Eden is unable to play a 17-year-old convincingly...The rest of the cast is also very good...Ayckbourn’s directorial choices, other than as mentioned above, are pretty seamless. The segments and accompanying through-lines flow nicely from one scene to the next." Full Review

Film Festival Traveler

“Not quite farce or satire but pitched somewhere in between...The glory of Ayckbourn’s writing is that, even when it’s a minor work— there’s always an especially felicitous observation or an empathetic moment that tears your heart out...Playing two dozen characters, the formidable cast of six keeps the play shuttling forward, even when Ayckbourn himself nearly sabotages it with a drawn-out third episode...The occasional hiccup can’t erase another noteworthy Ayckbourn stage event.” Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"A sweet-natured and enjoyable play in four parts...It’s a thoroughly inventive fun game from this sly craftsman, and instead of the layering of a time frame, Ayckbourn creates a construct that jumps forward twenty years with each and every part...The production serves up its frivolous fun fabulously and joyfully as if they don’t have a care in the world...It’s not as dynamic as a few of my favorites, but he manages quite well to keep us thoroughly entertained and satisfied." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"I wouldn't call it one of Ayckbourn's first-rank works -- the scenes, especially the alternately farcical and macabre girls' school sequence, are too uneven for that -- but, overall, this is an unusual and compelling work that makes use of an almost novelistic structure to neatly encapsulate half a century of social upheaval before concluding on a surprisingly moving note...This is an imperfect play, but it's the work of an artist who, in his eighth decade, is still growing." Full Review

Theater News Online

"The overall effect is both epic and blushingly slight. In other words, perfect Ayckbourn...Directed with unfussy warmth and efficiency by Ayckbourn...The ensemble juggles its diverse characters with elegance and wit...'A Brief History of Women' is an old-fashioned comedy from a master of middlebrow farce, but there’s something to be said for its humble, humane craftsmanship. Fans of Ayckbourn and British class humor should leave fairly satisfied. They can’t all be wild, hot-blooded affairs." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"Tends more toward rueful chuckles than the out-and-out guffaws that so many of Aykbourn's other plays elicit...Hasn't lost his knack for poking behind the stiff-upper-lip facade of Britain's middle and upper classes...It is Antony Eden's quietly understated performance as Spates that anchors the play and sent me away thinking back over the places I've lived and the people who filled those empty buildings and also my heart...Even generic Ayckbourn has what it takes to hit the spot." Full Review


"The country house has loomed large in British literature for centuries - as a symbol of English continuity as well as one of aristocratic decadence - and the success of this play lies in its ability to balance quite effortlessly the sentimentalism of Mansfield Park with the cynicism of the Tallis estate." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

“Ayckbourn, who writes about the English’s divide between class and gender, misses the mark here...Though the actresses are all talented, they are surpassed by their male counterparts. Eden is likable and charismatic, but it is Russell who steals the show with his over-the-top hysterical performance...Unlike 'The Norman Conquests' and 'How the Other Half Loves,' which seemed like a rollercoaster ride, 'A Brief History of Women' drags on. Ayckbourn’s direction is skillful.” Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"What you will get is a helping of Ayckbourn’s gift for creating amusing and sometimes poignant characters and putting them in odd situations that can be entertaining as well as meaningful...An excellent, versatile six-member cast...While it is not the best among the 80 or so plays Ayckbourn has written, it does have the sort of entertaining ingredients, including witty and sometimes broad comedy, and penetrating dialogue that one so often finds in his work." Full Review

Village Voice

“An easygoing comedy-drama...Unashamedly schematic, carefully written...An ably composed piece of mid-twentieth-century boulevard-style theater of the traditional kind...Neatly staged by the author himself, this production is modestly designed and agreeably acted. While the play is a mostly straightforward ho-hum affair, it probably will amuse people who like to see in the theater the same sort of show they already know from the telly." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"It will not go unnoticed that the women are defined largely in terms of their personal relationships with men...But there is something to be admired, even now—particularly now, in fact—about a work that reflects unselfconsciously and with genuine appreciation on a journey apart from one’s own, even in as modest and unabashedly sentimental a spirit as Ayckbourn furnishes here...The play’s easygoing wit and unapologetic tenderness are refreshing." Full Review


"This one feels comparatively dashed off. It may look and feel like an Ayckbourn play, but it doesn't have the same impact as his brilliant, genre-bending works...For starters, the play is neither brief nor about women...As a director of space, Ayckbourn is eternally skillful...As a director of actors, Ayckbourn is less skillful...Feels a lot like a school assignment where a young dramatist was tasked with writing a play in Ayckbourn's signature style, and walked away with just that, a shadow... Full Review

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Funny, Great staging

See it if You love British casts doing ensemble work; you enjoy Ayckbourn's humor; you love to see things come together unpredictably

Don't see it if you find actors playing different roles in different parts of the same play confusing; you don't appreciate British humor

Charming, Great acting, Touching, Entertaining, Tender

See it if like most of us, you love British everything, Alan Ayckbourn, solid dialogue, charming plots that resolve well, great acting and good set.

Don't see it if You're weary from too much Downton Abbey or simply don't enjoy the kind of theatre only the Brits give us.

Clever, Delightful, Great acting, Entertaining, Great staging

See it if you like bright, funny, inventive theatre.Set alone is worth the price of admission.Acting is top rate.Ayckbourn's writing never disappoints

Don't see it if you want something serious or pithy.This is lighthearted fun, cleverly staged.Title is a bit misleading.It's more the history of a manor!

Delightful, Funny, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing

See it if You like Alan Ayckbourn’s plays, British theater, the genre of tragicomedy, enjoy close up masterful performances.

Don't see it if You don’t enjoy long plays, are looking for a broadway style or a fast paced show

Delightful, Funny, Great acting, Great writing, Great staging

See it if you love British comedy and British actors in general, and Ayckbourn in particular - especially his gift for playing games with spaces.

Don't see it if you don't like British humor and you're allergic to over the top caricature, even when skillfully done.

Absorbing, Clever, Great ensemble, Funny, Masterful

See it if you enjoy Alan Ayckbourn's work. Although this is not one of his top-tier plays, it still provides a funny and moving evening of theatre.

Don't see it if you do not like British plays that poke fun at the British class system. Also, if you have a hard time with British accents.

Entertaining, Clever, Great acting, Funny, Great staging

See it if a funny British play that is sometimes touching; takes place over 60 years in the same manor house whose function changes over those years

Don't see it if you don't like actors playing a variety of different roles no matter how wonderful they are in them; expect more of the focus to be on women

Also The main character is a man who appears in all for acts at the ages of... Read more Read less

Clever, Entertaining, Great acting, Great staging

See it if you enjoy seeing the work of an amazingly prolific British playwright superbly performed by versatile actors

Don't see it if you don't like comedies of manners.

Clever, Delightful, Intelligent, Great staging, Great writing

See it if You like out of the box entrtainment. Ackroyd is one of a kind.

Don't see it if You have to have a broad sense of humor and enjoy quirkyness to enjoy Ackroyd--but he's a wonderfully acquired taste.

Ambitious, Great acting, Funny, Intelligent, Touching

See it if you're a fan of Ayckbourn, enjoy plots that occur over 50+ years, like comedies with a serious heart, enjoy tales set in rural England

Don't see it if you don't like plays set over multiple years or touching comedies that aren't hilarious, actors in multiple roles is confusing,

Clever, Entertaining, Great acting

See it if Amusing play set as four generations of a English country house. Ayckbourn insight, wit and compassion. Enjoyable.

Don't see it if Somewhat long, drawing-room style drama.

Entertaining, Great acting, Clever, Funny, Sentimental

See it if you want to see a not-so-brief history of a man (& his relationships w/women), sharply written & superbly acted in a new Ayckbourn dramedy.

Don't see it if you expect the biting satire, acerbic wit & absurdist twists of Ayckbourn's best-known works. [This is AA at his more sedate & conventional]

Ambitious, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Quirky

See it if you enjoy a playwright that breaks down the fourth wall consistently in his work. Ayckbourn knows no bounds

Don't see it if not his best work, a bit confusing but in the end satisfying

Great writing, Great acting, Entertaining, Set changes are an act by themselves

See it if Aykbourn plot and British humor tells the story of a man’s relationships with women at four different ages.

Don't see it if You are expecting a play that focuses on women. You don’t care for British humor.

Clever, Entertaining, Quirky, Great staging, Great writing

See it if You enjoy mildly amusing English plays told vignette style.

Don't see it if You need your comedies to be hilarious start to finish.

Entertaining, Amusing, Clever

See it if you like Alan Ayckbourn's plays, the Brits Off Broadway series, a play that requires your patience to come together.

Don't see it if you're not willing to indulge the playwright, you expect the title to be relevant to the play itself.

Entertaining, Well-crafted characters

See it if You like your plots character-driven. 3 1/2 one-act plays the common thread being a mansion over a period of 40 years.Fun.

Don't see it if You want something edgy and visceral. This is ironic and cerebral..

Also The playwright Alan Ayckbourn has written 82 plays. Some of them are s... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Entertaining, Enchanting, Delightful

See it if You enjoy British humor. Enjoy British dialects, this show is a wonderful buffet of English accents.

Don't see it if Looking for a slap-stick. Just because it's British, don't mean it's Noises Off. Looking for something that's completely "family-friendly."

Also This is the second show I have seen as part of 59E59's Brits Off-Broad... Read more Read less

Clever, Funny, Delightful, Hilarious, Quirky

See it if You enjoy broad funny strokes by very talented actors and enjoy clever set changes and period costumes.

Don't see it if You do not appreciate fast moving farce.

Great acting, Entertaining, Dated

See it if You are a fan of British comedy especially ones written by Alan Ayckbourn. You love actors so good they convince you they are every one of

Don't see it if You have no patience with shows that are dated, creaky and long. Silliiness annoys you. British accents grate on your ears.

Also the mutiple roles they play. The theatre is small but with good sight-... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging

See it if a talented cast with an incredible set and excellent playwright

Don't see it if following one man's romantic adventures over many years does not appeal to you. or if you dislike british accents.

Slow, Funny, Disappointing

See it if You are a dyed in the wool Ayckbourn fan

Don't see it if You expect his usual witiness

Great acting, Slow, Disappointing, Clever

See it if Like British plays and humor and acting

Don't see it if Fan of the playwright but this was disappointing

Disappointing, Slow, Great acting

See it if You like the British playwright, Alan Ayckbourn You enjoyed The Norman Conquests

Don't see it if You expect a show that is anywhere near as good and funny as The Norman Conquests

Disappointing, Lackluster, Sluggish, Melodramatic, Banal

See it if you are in need of a nap.

Don't see it if you like theatre that is cutting edge.

Also Alan Ayckbourne is a grat comic writer but you would never know it fro... Read more Read less

Cast & Creatives (13)