Just Between Ourselves: Synopsis

Cast: 2 male / 3 female
Running time (approximate): 1 hour 40 minutes - not including the interval
Acting edition: Published by Samuel French

Just Between Ourselves is set in a garage and garden over four successive birthdays beginning in February and ending the following January.

Act 1
Dennis is in his garage trying to mend a kettle; the garage being the place where Dennis appears to spend much of his life rather than with his wife, Vera, or his mother, Marjorie, who lodges with them. Dennis’s passion is for DIY, although he has no talent for it and he puts far more energy into this than into his wife, who constantly strives to get his attention. Unfortunately, when she does get it, it is as the brunt of his jokes demonstrated when she brings in Neil, who is interested in buying Dennis's car as a birthday present for his wife, Pam. Having ridiculed Vera for her clumsiness - which he dismisses as just a joke - he sings the praises of his mother who also seems determined to belittle Vera as much as possible implying Vera is not up to the task of caring for her son.

Neil and Pam’s relationship, meanwhile, turns out to be just as problematic as that of Dennis and Vera, as Pam has major issues with Neil; apparently a far more capable person than he, but confined to the house to look after their child, Darren. Pam’s barbs against Neil mirroring Dennis’s put-downs of Vera. When Pam joins the men in the garage, Neil visibly wilts as she instructs him to bargain down the price of the car; Neil instead deciding to drop the purchase for the minute. The couple leave and Marjorie has another verbal swipe at Vera, causing Vera to drop a tray of cups and saucers leaving her on the brink of tears and Dennis roaring with laughter.

In scene 2, it is Dennis’s birthday and Pam and Neil, at loggerheads over Neil’s lack of help in raising Darren, join his birthday tea. It transpires Pam was a supervisor with ‘prospects’ who has been forced to give up her career by Neil to raise Darren. Dennis meanwhile persuades Neil, by brute force of personality, to invest in a friend's business. In the garden, the couples are joined by the ill Marjorie who is incensed that Vera has not made Dennis a birthday cake; Marjorie having always made Dennis a cake even when his father was dying. Making more and more of this and shredding Vera’s nerves, Vera spills a cup of tea over the table much to Dennis’s amusement, who ends up singing Happy Birthday to himself.

Act 2
It is Neil and Marjorie’s birthday. Neil is suicidally depressed and tries confiding in Dennis, who is hammering and sanding and fails to hear a word Neil says. Dennis is more concerned with the perfect birthday surprise for Marjorie as he instructs Neil to come into the garage with her birthday cake when the car horn sounds, turning on a Technicolor display of lights Dennis has rigged up. Having made short shrift of Neil, Dennis now sees Vera make a desperate appeal for help. Hearing but not comprehending her, he asks her to draw up a list of the household things he can do to help. Vera leaves and a depressed and drunk Pam confides in Dennis that she feels Neil is trying to destroy her life. Dennis reveals Vera has been seeing a psychiatrist while Pam sits in the car, suddenly coming over ill. As Dennis struggles to get her out of the car, Marjorie enters and misinterprets what she sees, instantly stirring things up with Vera and implying Dennis and Pam are having an affair. Pushed to the edge, Vera snaps and grabs the sander chasing after Marjorie. Pam passes out on to the steering wheel, sounding the car horn, the birthday lights come on as Neil enters the chaos complete with the birthday cake and singing happy birthday.

The final scene is set on the patio for Vera’s birthday. Vera, wrapped up in blankets, has had a breakdown and is practically unresponsive to anyone or anything. Marjorie has, in effect, taken Vera’s place in the household and now looks after her son. Pam and Neil arrive and Neil reveals he has lost all his money investing in Dennis’s friend, who has run away. As a result, the couple - who have briefly separated - are back together but with Pam now training to go back to work as Neil is dependent on her.

Dennis offers the couple the car for free, which they turn down and attention turns to Vera who Dennis insists is getting better and making strides in her recovery, when patently she is doing no such thing. The play ends with Marjorie bringing a birthday cake for Vera and the four singing Happy Birthday to the catatonic Vera, who mouths the words to herself, with Dennis still unable and unwilling to understand what has happened to Vera or to even acknowledge a problem exists.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.