Review: The Private Ear, The Public Eye, by Peter Shaffer, The Original Theatre Company, New Wolsey Theatre, until November 9

The Private Ear, The Public Eye by The Original Theatre Company at The New Wolsey. Siobhan O'Kelly a

The Private Ear, The Public Eye by The Original Theatre Company at The New Wolsey. Siobhan O'Kelly as Doreen and Rupert Hill as Ted. - Credit: Alastair Muir

When Peter Shaffer’s duo of darkly comic one act plays first opened in 1962 they offered audiences a humorous slice of contemporary life. It formed part of Shaffer’s on-going wry look at the changing face of Britain.

Today, the plays are no less engaging but they have to be seen as pieces of entertaining social history rather than an examination of the changing face of modern relationships. With Mad Men, The Hour and Breathless so popular on television this is a timely revival.

The plays offer cast members an opportunity for tour-de-force performances which is why the original play did stunning business with Kenneth Williams and Maggie Smith in the lead roles.

This latest production is the first major revival of the play since then. The current cast are well up to the task and imbue their characters with enough quirks to be funny while remaining real enough to be believable.

The first play finds classical music fan Bob (Steven Blakeley) nervously trying to host a dinner date with Dorren (Siobhan O’Kelly), a young woman who he met at a proms concert. Feeling the need for support and someone to help with the cooking he invites Ted, (Rupert Hill) his jack-the-lad mate from the office, to join them. This is a mistake as Ted takes every opportunity to win Doreen for himself.

It’s a bittersweet tale which is nicely played by the three actors who use the humour in the characters and in the situation to keep the most overtly squirm-inducing moments at bay.

The second half The Public Eye is more laugh-out-loud funny. A middle-aged accountant Charles Sidley (Jasper Britton) has hired eccentric private detective Julian Cristoforou (Steven Blakeley) to spy on his much younger wife (Siobhan O’Kelly). Suspicion and jealousy can be deadly particularly when everything is not as it seems.

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Director Alastair Whatley displays a deft touch when it comes to maintaining realistic characters in absurd situations but his real shining moment comes at the start of the second act when a group of removal men arrive and transform Bob’s bedsit into a modern office and Steven Blakely from jumper-wearing nerd into a tweedy private eye. It’s the only ocassion where I’ve witnessed a scene change earn an enthusiast round of applause.

Siobhan O’Kelly deserves a special mention for keeping her composure on the opening night when she took a graceful tumble into the audience as she stepped backwards off the stage. She stood back up and carried on with the scene as if nothing had happened.

The cast all displayed wonderful comic timing. Steven Blakeley and Siobhan O’Kelly were outstanding for creating two completely different personalties in one evening. O’ Kelly, in particular, created two remarkable indivduals – not because they were larger than life but because they represented two different types of young women in the early 1960s: the prim and proper young working class typist and the flighty, young middle-class, wife.

It’s a fascinating look at a world that no longer really exists but humour lies in the fact that you will recognise the people. A darkly comic treat.

Andrew Clarke