Standing Room Only: Synopsis

Cast: 3 male / 2 female
Availability: Standing Room Only is not available for production.

Note: This synopsis is based on the original 1961 version of the play. Alan Ayckbourn revised Standing Room Only for his 1963 revival - introducing a new character, Ellie - and revising other elements.

The revisions to the 1963 version, where significant, are noted in italics below.


Pa (The father and 'driver' of the bus)
Neeta (His eldest daughter)
Cora (His youngest Daughter)
John (Neeta's husband)
Nemo (A stranger)
Ellie* (An elderly lady)

* Ellie did not feature in the original production, but was added in subsequent drafts of the script and the 1963 revival of the play.
The year is 2010 (1997) and the entire country has become gridlocked by traffic as a result of Saturation Saturday when the country officially reached over-population. Since then, the Government has introduced increasingly draconian measures to cope with this and the population crisis, whilst perpetually building ever higher 'sky towers' which dominate the London skyline.

On Shaftesbury Avenue, Pa and his two daughters, Neeta
(Nita) and Cora, live in the double-decker bus he was working in when the traffic stopped. The bus's only 'passenger' is Ellie, an elderly lady who visits every single day on her way to work for a cup of tea. Whilst the day's 'conductor', Neeta spots a man behaving strangely. He returns and introduces himself as Nemo (Paul), who apparently works for the Ministries. Pa is initially suspicious of Nemo, who pretends to be a Bus Inspector in order to persuade Pa to let him live on the bus. Cora is delighted by this as she already has her eye on Nemo.

Neeta, who has been frequently sick recently, reveals to Cora that she and he husband John - who works in the Housing Ministry - are planning on having a baby once they've been approved for a flat. In order to do this though, she will have to take a maternity exam as the Government has long since made it illegal to have babies without official permission.

John visits Neeta and takes an instant dislike to Nemo, insisting he not be allowed to stay on the bus. He leaves and Nemo quizzes Neeta about her sickness and whether she has been taking her Government issued vitamin pills. She replies she's been skipping the more recently introduced Vitamin E pills pass she's been dieting, which Nemo says she must tell John.

Four weeks later and Nemo is not only still on the bus, but aware that Neeta is illegally pregnant as the vitamin supplements are actually a contraceptive. John, who officially knows the purpose of the pills, has organised for Neeta to take the maternity exam early in the hope she will pass and get a maternity permit before anyone realises she's pregnant. John has also discovered Nemo is an illegal unregistered citizen and threatens to arrest him, only to knock himself out in the process
(John does not knock himself out in the revised version).

The following day, John discovers it is impossible to pass the maternity exam and that no-one has legally had a baby in the country for eight years. Between the vitamin supplements and the exams, the Government has made it impossible to have a baby. Neeta returns from the maternity exam, having failed it.

John, scared for his position, insists Neeta should have an abortion, but he is over-ruled and plans are laid for Neeta to have the baby on the bus.

Five months later with intricate and largely unnecessary plans in place, Neeta goes into labour.
(Ellie makes an unexpected visit to the bus and makes less than subtle overtures to Pa. Desperate to get her off the bus before the baby is born, Pa agrees to marry Ellie). Pa believes he can carry out the birth with the help of an old text-book, but promptly faints once Neeta enters labour. The other men have been given the redundant task of getting hot water from the pumps half a mile away to keep them busy, whilst Cora supervises the delivery. Unfortunately, even this proves to be a task too much for the men but amidst all the chaos, Neeta gives birth to a baby boy.

Soon afterwards, John and Neeta are given an official flat, but without the official documentation know they cannot take the baby with them. Cora is given the baby to look after and she asks Nemo to marry her to give the baby a father. He agrees.
(Pa and Ellie return from their honeymoon and begin to arrange the new living arrangements on the bus for the baby, Cora & Paul, Eliie and Pa). Farewell are said to John and Neeta as they go to live on the 44th floor of a sky-tower.

The climax is substantially different for the two versions:

Original: With all apparently sorted, Pa notices the car in front is starting to move. After twenty years, the traffic lights have finally changed and London is starting to move again....

Revised: With all apparently sorted, Jon and Neeta return to the bus having found the flat has been given to four priests instead and they will have to stay on the bus. As everyone gathers round, Pa tries to arrange the new living plans for everyone amidst all the arguing and suggestions….

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.