Writer: Sir Peter Shaffer
Director : Alastair Whatley
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
First major revival in half a century they say! The Private Ear The Public Eye, by reputed British playwright Sir Peter Shaffer, has arrived at Milton Keynes. The double-billing of two ‘intime’ one-act plays was first performed in the West End of London in the early 60s and later to great acclaim in the U.S, on Broadway no less. Both plays are brief and poignantly comic/dramatic, giving us an alluring glimpse into people’s views on love and the ever-changing times of that famous, nay iconic, era.
The Private Ear takes place in a dingy London bedsit apartment in Belsize Park, where the anxious and obsessive Bob, who spends most of his time with his classical LP collection, asks a favour of Ted, his workmate a confident and smarmy, know-it-all pal. He needs Ted’s assistance in making a first date very special. That date, some not-so-grand nosh in fact, is with the oft timid and lovely Doreen. The Public Eye is set, by contrast, in a classy Bloomsbury accountant’s office, where the anally-retentive and middle-aged Charles is confronted by Julian Cristoforou, a slightly bizarre private eye, who Charles has hired to follow his younger wife Belinda whom he suspects of being unfaithful to him. Very much a matching pair of plays with a bit of a chilli after-kick! With Bob and Julian the first is unable to exist fully because the world always comes up so disappointingly short of music’s utter perfection, the latter an impotent voyeur of the perimeters of the lives other people lead, lives which he understands only too well.
Doubling the rôles of the nervous Bob in The Private Ear and the oddball detective Julian Cristoforou in The Public Eye, Steven Blakeley quite cleverly gives the essence of each of the characters, so a bundle of nervous energy as Bob, using facial expression and a very irksome voice, while as Julian Cristoforou the actor relies on his physicality and sharp, well-delivered one-liners, thus providing much at which to guffaw! A rather poignant moment too when Bob is left utterly rejected, brought out by Blakely in an understated way.
In much the same way, Siobhan O’Kelly approaches the rôles of Bob’s potential love Doreen and then Mrs Sidley. Playing Doreen she is for the most part subtle and tres timide, but the contrast with the excitable, overly-expressive and loud Mrs Sidley is marked. Whether she has chosen to perform the two parts in this way or as directed is unclear. Either way a very sound performance of both rôles. One could query her actions in the first play in terms of her responses to creepy Bob, but that is as much to do with the script. She is particularly creative in the speeded-up and freeze scenes, one of the best elements of The Private Ear!
Rupert Hill takes on the smooth and ultra-cool pal Ted, largeing it up about the stage with quasi-poise and great confidence. He is very believable and provides some much-needed humour. The overbearing and pompous ass, Charles Sidley, is perfectly portrayed by Jasper Britton, who is thus a stooge for our oddball private eye. In The Private Eye the three actors work well together and the rapport is convincing.
Hayley Grundle has produced a very detailed set so we get damp and mould in the walls and mismatched chairs, for example, as well as the posters reflecting the time. Similarly, the office in the second play is very effective though simple. There is an unexpectedly droll scene change in which said set is very cunningly used and moved around but no spoilers here!
Despite these excellent aspects it is the whole piece itself that lacks pace and narrative drive, which leaves the audience feeling slightly unsatisfied at times and in both plays things really do take a long time to get going, especially in The Private Ear. The latter play is faster and wittier and gives Blakely the opportunity to act in a way which certainly appears to suit his obvious skills much more. Direction, by Alastair Whatley, is also sharp.
An enjoyable evening. A tad dated, but an amusing look-back at the 60s