Cast a delight in double bill

The Private Ear/The Public Eye

Malvern Theatres

***

WRITER Peter Shaffer's award-winning work Equus has seen quite a revival in recent years, especially when Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe took a turn in the play.

But this production gives audiences a chance to see two other short plays by Shaffer, who also penned Amadeus.

Set in the 1960s and featuring his trademark complex characters, we start off with The Private Ear, where we are drawn to likeable misfit Bob as he prepares for a romantic meal at his London bedsit. 

Streetwise work colleague Ted is on hand to cook and help things go smoothly with the girl in question, Doreen, but as the night progresses it becomes obvious that Bob is the third wheel in this scenario.

While Ted has the gift of the gab, Bob is awkward. Ted is fighting free of his unhappy parental home, finding release in the rock'n'roll clubs that are emerging. Meanwhile Bob is cocooned in the world of opera with the record player he has named and hopes of finding the "Venus" of his dreams who can watch him admiringly as he pretends to conduct his favourite arias. 

This first play is a tender, sentimental piece that easily stands the test of time, particularly as the aspirations and characters of all three people involved correspond to today as much as when it was written.

There's a lovely, touching moment too when Bob plays Doreen the operatic love duet from Madam Butterfly and they playfully conduct, dance and flirt to the music.

After the interval, the stage is cleverly transformed into the setting for the next play, a totally unconnected story - The Public Eye.

This is a much more quirky piece that sadly doesn't translate as well over time and tends to drag a little.

It unravels around suspicious, stuffy accountant Charles Sidley, who has hired a private detective to follow his young wife, who he believes to be having an affair.

There's plenty of twists to this tale (that I wouldn't want to spoil) as we find out exactly what Mrs Sidley has been up too and examine the art of marriage. 

This play is much more farcical, and perhaps unbelievable, than the first half, which may also be why it seems more dated.

The strong cast of Siobhan O'Kelly, Steven Blakeley, Rupert Hill and Jasper Britton are a delight throughout, especially O'Kelly and Blakeley, who double up as Doreen/Mrs Sidley and Bob/the private detective respectively - parts played originally by Maggie Smith and Kenneth Williams. To 28-09-13

Alison Brinkworth

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