Just Between Ourselves: Quotes by Other People

This page includes quotes and observations about the play Just Between Ourselves by people other than Alan Ayckbourn, predominantly drawn from books and articles about Alan Ayckbourn or British theatre; it does not include quotes from reviews, which can be found in the Reviews pages.

"Some people do not laugh at all at this play [Just Between Ourselves], but for most it is a brilliant use of comedy as a staging post on the way to realising the appalling bleakness of much of human life."
(Paul Allen, Country Life, August 1984)

"'Just between ourselves' is Dennis' catchphrase, mostly in conversation with Neil. But it also serves as a label for the core of Ayckbourn's work: where do things go wrong in his dramatic world? Not in party politics, ideological systems, religious conflict or even national wars, but just between those of us who are closest to each other. In Dennis he has refined brilliantly the trait that has made so many of his male characters impossible to live with. It is, as it happens, the trait often noticed in the creative artist, the ability not to be quite present even when physically there, not to go the extra distance required for complete commitment. However objectionable he is, Dennis remains convinced that he is kind, well-meaning, good company and undemanding. And in Vera, the complete psychological and spiritual destruction threatened for so long - for Sarah in
The Norman Conquests, all the women in Absent Friends, Susannah in Bedroom Farce - finally happens.
(Paul Allen: A Pocket Guide to Alan Ayckbourn’s Plays, 2004, Faber)

Just Between Ourselves is] a work that demonstrates the spiritual impoverishment that often accompanies home improvement, the terrifying demands of motherhood, the Englishman's unfeeling treatment of his wife as some kind of labour-saving, domestic appliance and, above all, the tragedy of what E. M. Forster called 'the under-developed heart'. This is Ayckbourn at his wintriest; but, after seeing the play performed, one feels that he caught something that is true about many of our lives."
(Michael Billington: Alan Ayckbourn, 1990, Palgrave)

Just Between Ourselves picks up on a theme explored by Simon Gray in Otherwise Engaged: the English vice of emotional detachment. There is, however, one key difference. The chief victim of the distancing irony dispensed by Gray's Simon Hench is the man himself. In contrast Ayckbourn's hero, a bullish suburban hearty called Dennis, uncomprehendingly destroys those around him: in particular his lonely, mentally disintegrating wife, Vera. And it is this that lifts Ayckbourn`s play into the realms of tragi-comedy. In the past Ayckbourn had shown the dark side of human nature but, as if keeping a shrewd weather-eye on audience expectations, had always managed to retrieve the situation. Here he resisted the temptation; and by doing so, as he himself said, ‘I felt I took a large stride towards maturity as a playwright.' One particular scene, in which Vera (always addressed by her husband with the patronising diminutive of ‘Vee’) confronts Dennis in his garage and begs for help, is as good as anything in the Ayckbourn canon. It is not that Dennis is a monster. It is simply that, partly because of his upbringing by an omnicompetent father and a ferociously possessive mother, he is emotionally deaf to Vera's desperation."
(Michael Billington: State Of The Nation, 2007, Faber)

"It is as sombre an ending as you'll find in Ayckbourn and indeed in most modern drama. It is also a reminder that in the late Seventies the master technician edged closer to Chekhov and showed that he was capable of building laughter out of suffering."
(Michael Billington: State Of The Nation, 2007, Faber)

"As the play goes on Dennis’s genial joking, the camaraderie of his "just between ourselves now" is seen to be a strategy for keeping painful experience at bay. His recurrent snorts of laughter in time cut our laughter dead because by the final scene we realise the extent to which in seeing Dennis’s world as the stuff of farce we are sharing his deliberately limited perspective. Doubtless we no more see ourselves as cruel than Dennis does; but, by changing perspective, the play shames us into caring. Ayckbourn cleverly manipulates the form and nature of farce to make us aware how holding unquestioningly to certain attitudes and assumptions we unwittingly do violence to others."
(Richard Allen Cave: New British Drama In Performance On The London Stage 1970 - 1985, 1987, Colin Smythe)

"So many women in Alan Ayckbourn's plays fight a losing battle against their marital circumstances. They struggle to maintain dignity within their relationships, but it is a hard conflict. Torn between duty and personal happiness, they suffer embarrassment, neglect and even cruelty. Roles are clearly defined in this world: men do not lay tables, look after children, prepare food. Women, saddled with these functions, tend to treat their men as children or pets. And they seem doomed to suffer disappointment and lack of fulfilment. Small wonder that they frequently reach breaking point."
(Michael Holt: Alan Ayckbourn, 1999, Northcote Press)

"It would seem, then, that the Ayckbourn method is to surround us with the bare, often inane acts of human intercourse, laughable as they may be, up to the moment when they suddenly overwhelm us in their essential cruelty and waste. It is at these moments of realisation in the play that we have the utmost sympathy with the innocent victim the Veras and the Pams. When the laughter, as you might say, finally clears up, all we have left is the sight of Vera huddled against the winter cold - and everything else in life - completely cut off from Dennis's further 'good' intentions."
(Sidney Howard White: Alan Ayckbourn, 1994, Twayne Publishers)

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.