Both plays are styled naturalistically, even more so than most plays; for example, Ayckbourn uses the unique idea of the audience taking on the role of the waiter’s earshot, and only hearing what he’s hearing in “Between Mouthfuls”. The genre of both plays is comedy, but the comedy in both emerges from rather dark situations, such as marriages falling apart and people’s sanity or happiness crumbling into dust.
In “Just Between Ourselves”, Vera’s clearly serious mental illness is laughed at by my character, prompting hilarity from the point of view of the audience. My character is not only hugely insensitive to his wife’s feelings, but also seemingly oblivious to the severity of her condition. He continues to bully her in this way relentlessly throughout the play. Also, Neil is consistently belching, even though his “indigestion” seems to be more obviously a potentially life-threatening symptom.
But instead of the normal worried reactions you’d expect from the people around him, all the others are amused or irritated, completely unaware of the dangerous state of health he could be in. Although nowhere near as dark as our play, “Between Mouthfuls” also touches on some serious issues, with the comedy coming from the irony that there has been adultery between the two couples, and the first person to pick up on this is the waiter who simply acts entirely normally and professionally as though he hasn’t heard a thing.
Also, his random little interjections such as “potted shrimps sir?” put the whole scene into context, and makes the audience wonder to themselves whether or not this is a situation that really does occur in real life to the extent that waiters are simply used to it! The play features very well observed little flickers of dialogue from the couples too, such as the irritation of Donald Pierce as his wife forces him to read out the entire menu before she admits she was never really listening in the first place. Despite all these highly amusing factors, the play manages to highlight some of the great truths about marital relationships.
A key point that struck me was the structure of both plays – in both cases; Ayckbourn uses some very interesting and unusual devices. In both cases, Ayckbourn uses some very interesting and unusual devices. In “Between Mouthfuls” he continuously cuts between the two very different conversations of the two couples. Sometimes, the switch between conversations can be ironically clever, from which lots of comedy can stem. In “Just Between Ourselves”, each scene is set on the birthday of one of the characters, demonstrating how in the non-stop boring lives of Dennis and those around him, life only gets interesting when they’re celebrating a birthday. The writing of the play is incredibly original, with Ayckbourn picking up tremendously accurately the small flickers of small-talk and dull conversation that is the true way people talk – he is able to make the conversations sound real, unlike many scripted pieces I’ve seen in the past which have just not sounded realistic.
As mentioned before, both plays touch on some very serious themes and issues, in particular that of marriage and how ill-matched couples can fall apart so easily. In Dennis’s case, he is so self-obsessed and solipsistic, living in his own little world; that he doesn’t even notice that his wife is completely losing her mind. In the case of Donald Pierce in “Between Mouthfuls”, he commits adultery foolishly behind his watchful and suspicious wife’s back, which results in a violent public outburst from her.
Also significant is the way the plays are titled: “Just Between Ourselves” suggests that Ayckbourn is exploring a private and secret world, behind closed doors; looking into the pain and suffering of apparently ordinary middle-class suburban couples. “Between Mouthfuls” suggests he is exploring everyday life, but looking into the nooks and crannies of what is a normal situation; what really goes on in those everyday places? It shows that in a public meeting, like a restaurant, couples can no longer hide behind a TV set or a newspaper, but have to face each other and confront the truth between mouthfuls. By comparing these two plays, I have learnt about how Ayckbourn creates comic drama out of the lives of ordinary couples, and explores the plain beneath the apparently tranquil facade of suburban middle class life.