Double Your Funny

Jasper Britton and Steven Blakeley in The Public Eye. Image credit Alastair Muir
Jasper Britton and Steven Blakeley in The Public Eye. Image credit Alastair Muir
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Giving audiences a two-for-one bargain, the revival of a double bill of bitter-sweet comedies by award winning playwright Sir Peter Shaffer is a dramatically good deal. Vicky Edwards sneaks into rehearsals to find out more…

First performed 50 years ago and instrumental in launching the careers of Dame Maggie Smith and Kenneth Williams, this major revival of one act comedy dramas The Private Ear and The Public Eye, performed on the same night, boasts an exciting cast.

The assembled company is both glamorous and dazzlingly talented. Including ex Corrie star Rupert Hill (remember scrummy Jamie Baldwin?), critically-acclaimed classical actor Jasper Britton, Steven Blakeley (best known as PC Geoff Younger in Heartbeat)and rising star and Irish beauty Siobhan O’Kelly.

Two hours into rehearsals and I have happily slipped into a retro groove; relishing the fascinating glimpse into the choppy and changing attitudes to love in the 1960s.

In The Private Ear, set in a musky London bedsit, reclusive Bob calls in a favour from Ted, his slick, confident friend, to help him treat his beautiful but shy date to a slap up meal.

In The Public Eye, uptight Charles is confronted by Julian, an eccentric private detective hired by Charles to investigate his young wife, whom he suspects of infidelity.

Gripping and brilliantly written, by the time tea break rolls around I can already answer the first question on my list. I ask it anyway: Are the plays a tad dated 50 years on? Steven is shaking his head before I’ve finished speaking.

“They have stood the test of time and endured because human nature has changed very little.

“People today relate to each other in similar ways and have the same problems, desires, loves, passions, hates and likes.

“For me the biggest element in both plays is loneliness,” Siobhan chimes in. “All the characters suffer from a lack of human contact and people are still driven by the same need for human tenderness.

“One could argue we are even lonelier nowadays than we were back in the 1960s. We work longer hours, eat at our desks, live in a world of social media, the elderly are forgotten, cities are overcrowded – the need for human kindness is even more urgent!”

Director Alastair Whatley chipped in, “The plays don’t preach, they certainly don’t get up on any moral high ground, but they do pose questions. T

“They challenge our attitudes, prejudices and preconceptions. In turn you really empathise with the characters and laugh with them and at them. It is a contagious and heady brew, richly packed into two hours”.

Talk turns to life on the road. Mostly the actors simply accept it as part of the job, but Siobhan is enthusiastic. “It suits me to live out of a suitcase.

“As long as I have a good book to read and moisturised skin then I’m delighted! Besides, it is exciting to explore a different town each week.”

But Rupert confesses that as a family man touring can be challenging. “It’s not easy being away from home and family – particularly my three-year-old daughter Matilda.

The Private Ear and The Public Eye are at Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, from Monday, September 30 to Saturday, October 5.