the private ear and the public eye
gaiety theatre, dublin
Peter Shaffer's two one-act plays, first performed together in 1962, have much more in common than the average double-bill. Conjoined theatrical twins, they might be summarised as being about two men at loggerheads over the heart of a woman, though they take very different forms.
The Private Ear takes place in the bedsit of the romantically unsuccessful Bob, nervously preparing for his first ever dinner date with Doreen, a girl he plucked up the nerve to approach at a classical music concert. His friend, the handsome, brashly confident Ted, is the culinary spanner in the works. Bob has asked him to do the cooking, but he's not the kind of chap to stay in the kitchen and soon Doreen is avidly eating out of his hand.
The Public Eye occurs in an upmarket accountant's office where Charles Sidley impatiently tries to make sense of highly eccentric private detective Cristoforou's report into his wife Belinda's suspected extra-marital affair.
Cristoforou seems more interested in confectionery than infidelity, and it's only when Belinda turns up unexpectedly that we discover what she's really up to.
It's a brilliant little farce, all slamming doors, role reversal, and witticisms ricocheting off the walls of the richly-appointed office, but like the best comedy there's serious emotional matter beneath the lightness.
Can a failing love be reignited? Particularly between a middle-aged man and a younger woman? Is it too much to expect one person to be everything? Charles doesn't think so: "One man has the whole of human history inside him," a woman simply has to reach in. But Belinda needs other people too. "How can I be faithful to you if I'm unfaithful to my friends?"
Both plays are rich in a variety of symmetries and affinities, and there's much connective thematic tissue between them.
Balancing the more pronounced pathos of The Private Ear with the sharper comedy of The Public Eye, Alastair Whatley's Original Theatre Production revival is a well-rounded two-plus hours of excellent entertainment with real substance. The small cast of strongly contrasting characters is captivating. Steven Blakeley is superb as the romantically thwarted but irrepressible Bob, and the confidentially eccentric Cristiforou. Siobhan Kelly charms both as the inarticulate working-class Doreen, and the over-articulate Belinda. Rupert Hill is perfect as Ted, while Jasper Britton speeds up a masterful slow-burn as the exasperated Charles.