It precedes the Tony honor that he will receive at this year's Tony Awards for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre.
Ayckbourn, who turned 71 recently, is currently preparing for the world premiere of his 74th play, Life of Riley, that will be staged at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough in October, where he was previously the long-time artistic director (from 1972 to 2009) and where the majority of his work has been seen first. He is also currently represented in London by a West End revival of Bedroom Farce, currently playing at the Duke of York's Theatre (directed by Sir Peter Hall, who co-directed the original National Theatre production with Ayckbourn himself in 1977, before transferring to Broadway), and a new production of his 1979 play Taking Steps, that Ayckbourn has directed at Richmond's Orange Tree Theatre, where it runs through May 29.
Previous recipients of the Critics' Circle Award, which is awarded by an open vote of the entire membership of the circle including the drama, film, music and visual arts sections, have included the playwrights Harold Pinter, Alan Bennett, Tom Stoppard and film-maker and playwright Mike Leigh.
In a speech paying tribute to Ayckbourn's career, critic Benedict Nightingale of the London Times, who has been reviewing plays even longer than Ayckbourn has been writing them (Nightingale's first review was published in 1957; Ayckbourn's first play was produced in 1959), he commented, "There's nothing a genuinely modest person likes less than to be praised as genuinely modest, but, sorry, that's what Alan is. He's unassuming, unpretentious, generous and, if he'll forgive me, rather shy. He once told me that he thought London scary, New York too terrifying to contemplate, and Scarborough the big fast city as far as he was concerned. And think what he's done for his big fast city: converted its old Odeon cinema into a spanking theatre, given it play after play, put it on the national and international map as a theatrical centre. But perhaps it's also because Alan dislikes making himself conspicuous that we don't always appreciate what he is, a major dramatist and a dramatist built to last because he transforms seemingly small problems into universal insecurities and anxieties, deepening our laughter in the process. It's probably mad to second-guess the future when, for some of the reasons Alan diagnoses, there may not be much of a future. But I feel pretty confident in prophesying one thing. In 2110 and 2210 they'll still value and still perform Alan Ayckbourn. And that's one of the many reasons we want to honour him today."