Just Between Ourselves: World Premiere Reviews

This page contains reviews of the world premiere production of Alan Ayckbourn's Just Between Ourselves at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in January 1976. It is not a complete set of reviews as the aim of the page is to offer a flavour of how the play was originally received and to offer a cross-section of opinion. All reviews on this page are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author and should not be reproduced. Reviews from the London premiere of Just Between Ourselves in April 1977 can be found here.

Just Between Ourselves His Black Is Beautiful (by Iain Meekley)
"I cannot ask you to promise you will not laugh. But this sombre little comedy is going to wipe the smile from your face.
Below the surface of Alan Ayckbourn at his most buoyant lie the jaws that bite, the claws that catch.
But he shark-attacks from the depths of this, his "darker, winter play" with unusual ferocity.
Just Between Ourselves, which had its premiere at the Library Theatre last night, is black comedy in the tradition of Orton, a piece of slick, sick theatre which is both viciously funny and deeply disturbing.
Funny because of Ayckbourn's usual subtle grasp of the dialogue of the absurd; and disturbing for the terrible rictus which seemed to freeze the audience's collective grin during even the darker passages of the play.
Ayckbourn has broken no new ground in his characterisations; we have the familiar ménage a quatre of frustrated wives and indifferent husbands, plus the obligatory mother-in-law. But from these stock characters, he has blended a rich comic stew, albeit darker in hue than usual.
Christopher Godwin gives a hearty Python-esque performance as the suburban husband who spends his time in the garage workshop polishing his father-provider image with a rotary sander; Polly Warren is the neurotic wife who eventually and understandably goes bonkers.
From Malcolm Hebden as the owlish Neil and Alison Skilbeck, playing his terse and testy wife Pam, a couple of well-tuned performances; and Janet Dale as the fusspot mum.
Ayckbourn was perhaps sunk in a comic-depressive mood when he penned this play; but just between ourselves, his black is beautiful."
(Scarborough Evening News, 29 January 1976)

Just Between Ourselves (by Robin Thornber)
"You're not going to believe this, but he's done it again. Alan Ayckbourn's new play for Scarborough Library Theatre is, like the previous 16*, his best yet. Every year we make the pilgrimage, dreading that he won't be able to sustain the flow of intricately contrived, tautly written, savagely observed, social comedies.
Every year we go away wondering now on earth he is going to follow that. What subconscious lower middle ache can he find next to pick to pieces with his two-pronged quips? This time the first laugh comes before you've reached your seat. The settings for Mr Ayckbourn's plays have roamed through every room in the suburban semi-detached - where can he go next? Where else but the garage? And at the centre - of Helga Wood's carefully cluttered set, taking up most of the acting area, is an ageing (F registered) Morris Minor 1000. Dennis, the jovial bluff know-all, is selling his wife's car because she's been having trouble with her nerves. Diffident Neil is sort of thinking of buying it for his wife because she's - erm - lacking fulfilment.
Just Between Ourselves is, on the surface, one of the lightest, slightest of Alan Ayckbourn's plays. For the first half the dialogue rarely rises above that level of superficial banal non-enunciation that passes for conversation in suburbia. It's the sort of script that any self respecting play reader would have returned with a compliments slip before he reached page three. Yet when the sharp edges show through - like broken teeth in soft gums, the depths of the sub-texts are as black as Beckett or Bond. Take that awesome symbol of the old banger. The engine hasn't been turned over for months - and anyway the garage door is jammed.
Where the manic black comedy of
Absent Friends dealt with death and our refusal to recognise it, this play is about growing old - an even more sombre theme because you can't ignore it. Each of the four scenes take place on someone's birthday. Each of the five characters deals with the problem differently. Neil (Malcolm Hebden) accepts it as he does all the other disasters life deals him; his wife Pam (Alison Skilbeck) is fighting the fear that she's no longer attractive, useful, wanted, loved; Dennis (Christopher Godwin) laughs it off, like all life's little difficulties that he can't cope with; his mother Marjorie (Janet Dale) relishes the fretting and the worry; and his wife Vera (Polly Warren) eventually and inevitably succumbs.
But Alan Ayckbourn's reaction to cosmic gloom is, quite properly, a high pitched shriek of nervous laughter, and the play has one moment of elegantly contrived comic absurdity that must go down as a classic of British farce. Dennis is struggling in the car with a half-undressed Pam while his wife is chasing his mother round the garage with an electric drill: Neil comes in carrying a birthday cake covered with lighted candles and turns on the fairy lights with a fatuous grin."
(The Guardian, 30 January 1976)

Ayckbourn's Cruellest Comedy (by Eric Shorter)
"It is no good any longer expressing surprise at yet another new play from Alan Ayckbourn. They come out roughly twice a year at the Library Theatre, Scarborough, where he is artistic director.
And if some of them seem better than others, they all have a way of reaching London in the end. His latest piece is the third he has produced in Scarborough since
Absent Friends went to the Garrick.
And I should say it is his cruellest comedy yet.
Not that one associates this amusing guide to suburban wedlock with cruelty. But in
Absent Friends he took a very sour view of marriage - though he took care to clothe the sourness in comedy - and in his latest piece, Just Between Ourselves he strikes an even more sour note.
It doesn't make the evening any less funny than the others for three-quarters of its course. It simply turns the tragi-comic knife in the wound of two marriages with harsher and more artistically satisfying assurance.
The setting is a cluttered, corrugated garage. A car is for sale. A couple come to view it. They do not buy, but they become acquainted, which means with Ayckbourn any amount of embarrassed pauses and small talk masking larger emotions. Storms in fact are brewing over the birthday tea cups and finally there is a brainstorm.
For the men are Ayckbourn men - that is, smug, self-absorbed weak and cheerful; and the women are Ayckbourn women that is, exasperated, frustrated, full of sighs and bitten tongues.
All of which is very comical in its domestic and marital observation until one of the women (touchingly played by Polly Warren) literally blows her top - and the car remains unsold.
A sad story, wittily told, and wittily acted not only by Miss Warren but also by Christopher Godwin as a hearty, unperceptive husband, Alison Skilbeck as a wife with a marshmallow husband, and Malcolm Hebden as the marshmallow. The author directs."
(Daily Telegraph, 30 January 1976)

Ayckbourn Does It Again (by David Jeffels)
"
Just Between Ourselves, the latest in a long line of hit plays by Alan Ayckbourn, is probably his funniest yet.
It brought the house down at its world premier at Scarborough's Library Theatre last night.
Like all his works, Ayckbourn centres the story around contrasting couples in the unlikely setting of a garage and a garden. Christopher Godwin plays an irritating extrovert who attempts unsuccessfully to sell a car to a stranger, Malcolm Hebden; resulting in the two men and their respective wives, Polly Warren, and Janet Skilbeck [sic**], becoming friends.
Special bouquets are due to Janet Dale playing a complaining mother-in-law, a magnificent performance."
(The Stage, 29 January 1976)

*
Just Between Ourselves is actually Alan Ayckbourn's 20th play.
**This should read Alison Skilbeck

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.