Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

These notes about Just Between Ourselves were written by Alan Ayckbourn in 1992 in response to an enquiry about the character of Dennis.

Notes On Dennis

Dennis is a really nice guy. Obviously he has to be. He does such terrible things to everyone that if he isn't, the audience will be throwing rocks at him by the interval!

The danger though is not to give him too hollow a charm. I think the secret of Dennis is that he's genuinely nice. Not 'put on' nice - he mustn't come over as a professional used car salesman. He really and truly wants them to have the car because they'll have fun with it. He wants everyone to be happy, does Dennis. Which isn't altogether altruistic. It's just that he can only cope with people if they're happy.

[The actor] Colin Blakely got him very right. He was sincere. He genuinely wanted to help Pam and Vera and Neil. Dennis's drawback of course is that he's incredibly insensitive. He has no idea what makes anyone tick. Especially women. He can't cope with the dark emotional things of life at all. Which of course, in his life, are what most of the women turn out to be. Bundles of dark emotion. Dennis always looks for solutions through physical means. Not that dissimilar to most men - just a bit more so!

A girl said to me the other day that the difference between her men friends and women friends was that when you had a problem and told a woman she would listen sympathetically, nod a bit and quietly sympathise. Which was all she wanted from her friend. But if she told the same problem to a man he would immediately suppose that she was asking him for an answer and he would try usually vainly (since the whole reason for the discussion in the first place was that the problem was insoluble) to come up with solutions. And he'd become incredibly hurt and annoyed when she rejected all his ideas as unsuitable. Turning a quiet chat into a crisis meeting or a major row. It was a good (if generalised) observation and could well apply to Dennis.

The shed mentality of Dennis is nothing unusual. Practically all the houses in this area have sheds at the bottom of the garden, where the men go and smoke and sit and tinker with bits of bicycle pump. It's a refuge.

I don't know what job Dennis does. But I suspect he works with the public and is rather good at it. Well, ten minutes while he chats about the weather and finds you a new drive band for the Hoover is probably fine. It's living with the bugger that's the problem. He obviously adored his father - but one suspects that man went off to a shed of his own somewhere to escape Marjorie, shutting little Dennis out of his life for most of the time. Which left Dennis stuck with his mother. Which probably explains why he's reluctant to get emotionally involved. Children who are subjected to overdoses of adult emotion when they're young - remorseless blasts of Marjorie for instance - tend to grow up cool or at least distanced from the faintest whiff of emotional turmoil.

Dennis seems a rather friendless, lonely man, really. Not very sexually confident, not able to cope with women on any level. And not having many long lasting male friends, either. A man who empties pubs, I suspect.

Thus his relationship with Neil is both incongruous and touching. And also provides all the clues we need about Dennis's other great failing. In the end, despite all his protestations of interest in his fellow man, he can't really muster up a great deal of interest for other people. His life in fact begins and ends with himself and a handful of inanimate objects.

I remember starting out writing the play by thinking I would like to write about a man who was really very nice - or at least someone you would never in a million years class as nasty and yet be a person that nobody could stand the sight of.

But for the play to work you have to create someone we can well see why he is quite so friendless, yet finish up feeling rather sorry for. And without in any way feeling that he's set out to charm us. He's too simple a soul for that and never at all that devious. He's not very bright either.

In short, it presents that lovely dilemma that I love in plays. Of never being quite able to point a finger at the real heroes or villains. Who can entirely blame the poor man surrounded by that lot!

Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.