Public Eye, Frinton Summer Theatre

Public Eye: Peter Shaffer, Frinton Summer Theatre, 17 July

Public Eye: Peter Shaffer, Frinton Summer Theatre, 17 July

Frintonians must be a little weary about hearing that going to their town is like entering a time warp. As far as theatre is concerned, though, it's something of which to be intensely proud.

The last professional weekly rep in the country launched this year's seven-week season with Peter Shaffer's exquisitely written comedy Public Eye that has a simple but clever conceit at its core.

A starchy, charmless accountant has so lost touch with what made his marriage work that he has become obsessed with jealousy. He's so convinced his young wife, Belinda is having an affair that he's hired a private detective to spy on her. As the play opens the private eye has turned up at his office to give his monthly report.

What we learn is that Belinda had soon spotted him tailing her, had become intrigued by his kindly face, and entered into a strange relationship with him, though never a word was spoken.

Kenneth Williams and Maggie Smith originally played the couple in the West End in 1962 and a year later I remember a 24 year old Ian McKellen playing the private detective at the Arts Theatre in Tower Street, Ipswich.

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Edward Max's Frinton production is briskly and intelligently performed by a strong cast. Harry Gostelow (son of the great comic actor, Gordon Gostelow, who died last month) plays the accountant as testily and pompously as you'd want. Nellie Harker gives the lonely, long-suffering Belinda a nicely winsome quality. Philip Benjamin, who appeared in the most recent Eastern Angles Christmas show, plays the detective with just the right level of eccentricity and expressiveness.

It's the air of unreality about the private eye that is perhaps the key to it. His problem, he says, is that he himself has never had a private life and the odd series of silent encounters with Belinda has brought him just that. You can see him almost as a magical sprite sent to sort people out, but getting touched by human emotions.

A night at the Frinton Theatre is something else. The speeches, the raffle, the appeal for more cash to spend on the loos; even the playing of the National Anthem, which I can't remember at the theatre for years, is all part of the occasion.

But this is no theatrical backwater. Michael Denison and Vanessa Redgrave began there, and Jack Watling directed there for years. That's pedigree and the tradition continues.

Ivan Howlett

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