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The Private Ear & The Public Eye (Guildford)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Siobhan O'Kelly and Rupert Hill in The Private Ear
© Alastair Muir

Every now and again there is a play that, although enjoyable, has the audience leaving with a puzzled look on their face. No one wants to speak up and confess that they weren't sure what they just saw or that they weren't entirely convinced they understood it. That's not to say they didn't laugh or gasp or feel empathy; it's just that it is hard to pin point exactly what the point of the show was.

Original Theatre Company's production of Peter Shaffer's rarely performed The Private Ear and The Public Eye is one of those shows. The two one-act plays set in London in the early 60s comprise one about a nervous young chap attempting to woo a lady in the company of his charismatic best friend (The Private Ear) and The Public Eye, which is about an older gentleman who hires a rather strange private detective to follow his wife.

Doubling the roles of the nervous Bob in The Private Ear and the oddball detective Julian Cristoforou in The Public Eye, Steven Blakeley expertly characterises each of the roles, bristling with nervous energy as Bob and using his physicality to provide the majority of the laughs as Cristoforou.

Similarly Siobhan O'Kelly tackles the roles of Bob's love interest Doreen and Mrs Sidley. As Doreen she is understated and realistically coy, but as Mrs Sidley has an annoying habit of screeching and throwing her hands up in the air, supposedly to show wild abandon. However her performance as Doreen suggests that this latter over the top characterisation is a directorial decision.

As Bob's suave and cool friend Ted, Rupert Hill swaggers about the stage with a cock-of-the-walk confidence and the pompous Charles Sidley is very well played by Jasper Britton who provides an excellent foil to the bizarre private detective.

Hayley Grundle's set is finely detailed and avoids the trap of looking like a "groovy pad", instead pulling out details such as damp in the walls and mismatching chairs, which director Alistair Whatley very cleverly uses during the surprisingly witty scene change.

Despite these excellent elements it is ultimately the play itself that lacks narrative drive which leaves the audience slightly confused at the end of the show.

- Roz Carter


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