Alan Ayckbourn on Just Between Ourselves

Following the announcement that Alan Ayckbourn will revive his classic play Just Between Ourselves this summer at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, we continue our look into the play.

Here Alan Ayckbourn discusses his thoughts on the piece and the significant place it has in his play canon in an amended article written for an early publication of the play during 1979.

Just Between Ourselves by Alan Ayckbourn

Just Between Ourselves (1976) could be described as the first of my ‘winter’ plays. Unlike its predecessors, which were all written in late spring for performance during the Scarborough summer season, this was composed in December for performance in January. I mention this not because I am a strong believer that the time of the year wields some astrological influence over what one writes (though I would never rule this out either). In a more practical way, though, this shift of my established writing pattern did, to some extent, alter my priorities. By the winter of 1975-6, the Scarborough Theatre-in-the-Round Company at the Library Theatre had made its first tentative steps towards a year-round playing pattern.

The poster for the West End premiere of Just Between Ourselves
at the Queen’s Theatre during 1977.

This had long been an ambition of mine. After twenty years or so of being exclusively a summer rep company, we were at last establishing some sort of deeper permanency within the town. To encourage and develop our much needed winter audience, I launched my latest play, Just Between Ourselves, at a time when it would, we hoped, do the most good for the box office. At the same time, the pressure that had always been on me to produce a play suited primarily to a holiday audience was no longer there.

As is customary, I wrote mainly at night – but this was my first experience of tackling a play whilst the North Sea storms hurtled round the house, slates cascaded from the roof and metal chimney cowlings were bounced off parked cars below my window, rebounding hither and thither like demented pinballs. Not surprisingly, the result was a rather sad (some say a rather savage) play with themes concerned with total lack of under-standing, with growing old and with spiritual and mental collapse. Dennis, the husband, is no calculating villain. Nor is he, I contend, particularly unusual. Just a man pathologically incapable of understanding beyond a certain level. His wife’s cries for help go unanswered not because he ignores them or fails to hear them but because he honestly hasn’t the slightest idea what they’re about

The wife, Vera, hampered by a lack of ability to express herself clearly or maybe too inhibited to do so, suffers from a conventional upbringing that has taught her that the odds on her being wrong and her husband being right are high. Slowly, the last vestiges of self-confidence are drained from her. Vera sits empty, huddled and withdrawn in the garden, unwilling to go back into a house that is no longer hers.

A scene from the world premiere production of Just Between Ourselves
at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1976 (© Scarborough Theatre Trust)

Occasionally, and I’m glad to say it is only occasionally, it has been suggested that the whole piece might benefit from a more cheerful ending wherein all becomes right with the world. Perhaps a few years earlier, I might have paid such suggestions serious attention.

In resisting them and allowing, Just Between Ourselves to end as it does, I felt I took a large stride towards maturity as a playwright. It continued my small progress, first started in Absent Friends (1974), towards my unattainable goal: to write a totally effortless, totally truthful, unforced comedy shaped like a flawless diamond in which one can see a million reflections, both one’s own and other people’s.

by Alan Ayckbourn (© Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder).

Just Between Ourselves – directed by Alan Ayckbourn – can be seen at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, from 18 June to 3 October. Further details can be obtained at www.sjt.uk.com.

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