Standing Room Only: Scene
This page reproduces a scene from the play offering an insight into and a taste of the unpublished work. The dialogue is reproduced in the style of the original including grammatical choices / errors.
(A double-decker bus).
Pa: Who’s she going to meet then?
Nita: It’s not who she’s going to meet. It’s who she’s trying to meet.
Pa: Like who?
Nita: Like some man.
Pa: What for?
Nita: Oh Pa. What do you think for. How do you think I got engaged to be registered?
Pa: Do you mean…?
Nita: That’s what she’s hoping to do. That’s how I did it.
Nita: In the Government Multiple Stores. I kept going down there until I met someone I liked.
Pa: Is that how you met John?
Pa: I was never told about this.
Nita: You never asked -
Pa: Well, swipe me - let’s get this straight. Am I to understand that you went round and round the Government Multiple Store with your polythene basket till you saw somebody you liked the look of and then asked him to marry you. Am I right?
Nita: Yes, more or less.
Pa: Got a romantic nature, haven’t you?
Nita: Oh, Pa. You’re so antiquated. This is 1997. You ought to keep up - like Ellie. She wanted to know all about it. That’s the way everybody does it these days.
Pa: Is it? Well, it wasn’t the way I did it.
Nita: You were different.
Pa: We were young people, same as you are.
Nita: Yes, but… it was different then. When you and Ma first met I expect you went out and did things together, didn’t you?
Pa: Yes… (He smiles, recovering) yes, yes.
Nita: Well, you can’t today, can you? Things are different. When do I get a chance to go out? A two-hour pass once a week, that’s all. I can’t waste that wandering around looking for someone, so it’s got to be with a shopping pass. Cora and I used to take it in turns. She went one morning, I went the next. And if you’ve only got three-quarters of an hour a day to find a husband and do the shopping, you can’t waste time, can you?
Pa: I suppose not. Is that what she’s got down on that shopping list of hers? Milk, sugar, husband…?
Nita: It’s human nature, Pa.
Pa: Doesn’t sound human nature to me.
Nita: Well, it works. I’m getting registered.
Pa: Yes, you are, aren’t you? To a typical product of the Government Multiple Store - mass produced and dehydrated. Did you get him free with a packet of soup or something?
Nita: I wish you’d talk to John, Pa.
Pa: Ha, me? Talk to that great roll of red tape with hair on - ? Not likely.
NotesThis scene is reproduced from an original manuscript of Standing Room Only held in the Ayckbourn Archive at the Borthwick Institute at the University Of York.
Although unpublished and unavailable to produce, Standing Room Only is the earliest of Alan Ayckbourn's plays that he has expressed any satisfaction with and at least went on to a second production (being the first Ayckbourn play to be directed by the playwright himself).
This scene is taken from the final version of the play - it went through numerous extensive revisions over several years - and isn't present in any form in the original manuscript.
As the first of Alan's science-fiction plays, it's an interesting look as how he builds worlds. The original version of the play is extremely exposition-heavy and goes into (too) much detail about the world in 2010. By the final draft, the future world (now 1997) is revealed more through casual conversation and showing; not altogether dissimilar to how he will handle his late forays into the genre.
This scene is notable for showing the disparity between the generations, particularly in a world which has changed so much. It serves the multiple purpose of establishing the relationship between Nita (originally Neeta) and her father as well as how much life has changed since gridlock closed down the entire country years earlier. It's one of the earliest examples of Alan tackling the conflicting viewpoints of different generations which will become common in his writing (Absent Friends and GamePlan to name but only a notable couple).
It also subtly builds in the idea of a dystopian future under a draconian Government where people are allowed two hours to leave their residence once a week and the shops are all Government run (later revealed as a means of controlling the country's birth rate through weekly 'vitamin' allowances).
It is also very typically Ayckbourn in mixing the extraordinary with the ordinary (finding a husband whilst doing the shopping).
The scene is an interesting look at an early piece of world-building by Alan Ayckbourn and sets the precedent for future plays such as Henceforward..., Comic Potential and Surprises.
The scene reproduced on this page (both transcription and the actual page) is copyright of Alan Ayckbourn and should not be reproduced in any format without the permission of the copyright holder. All other material is copyright of Simon Murgatroyd and should not be reproduced without permission.