Although much lighter than some of his better known work, this double bill of 1960s one-act comedies from Peter Shaffer still revolve around the themes of internal conflict and self-acceptance, which are at the heart of his later dramas such as Equus and Amadeus.
Both plays pitch two characters, who are essentially each one half of a perfect whole, against each other. In The Private Ear, shy music geek Bob (Steven Blakeley) enlists the help of his cock-sure, wide-boy pal Ted (Rupert Hill) in wooing Doreen (Siobhan O'Kelly), the girl Bob has mistakenly understood to be a fellow music lover.
Ineveitably, Ted slyly nurdles the hapless Bob out of the way so he can make his move on Doreen. It's a slight yet amusing piece which basically feels like Shaffer simply giving voice to his dismay at sensitive, arty types (probably like himself at the time) never getting the girl.
Blakeley and Hill have a good chemistry and fill the stage with opposing energies. The part of Doreen is frustratingly underwritten, leaving O'Kelly silently reacting to the two men too much of the time, but we get to see more of her after the interval when she returns as Belinda in The Public Eye.
It's worth pointing out here the scene change between the two plays. A functional necessity usually carried out behind the interval curtain is here part of the performance and a joy to behold.
The Public Eye is essentially a single joke – a coquettish woman falls in love with the man her suspicious husband has hired to spy on her – eked out over an hour. It's too long, but delves deeper into the idea of acknowledging what we may lack as individuals and either being repelled or attracted by those who represent what we may be missing.
Jasper Britton is suitably blustery as the middle-class, middle-aged accountant who suspects his young wife (O'Kelly again) of cheating on him, and Blakeley shows impressive versatility, reincarnating himself as Cristoforou the all-seeing private detective – and "other half" to his Bob of The Private Ear – who just for once wants to save a marriage rather than destroy one.
There is not enough in either play to warrant a longer running time, but thematically they dovetail nicely. Ultimately these plays feel like Shaffer dipping his toe in to themes he would later fully immerse himself in. Nonetheless they remain enjoyable, engaging and very well performed pieces.