Masterly revival of Shaffer double bill

This double bill of The Private Ear and The Public Eye from The Original Theatre Company gives these much-acclaimed plays by Peter Shaffer their first major performance for 50 years.

Directed by Alastair Whatley, displaying trademark empathy with his cast, creative and production teams, one wonders why audiences have so long been deprived of the searingly amusing spotlight Shaffer turns on the language and idiosyncrasies of six people whose lives remain an accurate mirror-image of ourselves.

The time gap of half a century becomes irrelevant.

Alastair cleverly links the two plays so that when the curtain rises after the interval on the seedy bedsit in Belsize Park, the scene of Private Ear in the first half, the audience watches in bemused awe as the understudies, in the guise of a removal firm, transform the set into a book-lined office in Bloomsbury, the setting for Public Eye in the second.

This coup de théâtre, including transforming one actor on-stage from Bob, the nerdish classical music buff, to Julian, the macaroon-chomping, dirty-raincoated private detective, played with devastating conviction in both roles by Steven Blakeley, brought warm applause.

This double casting, not in the original production but sanctioned by Shaffer, works well.

The same applies to Siobhan O’Kelly who plays Doreen, Bob’s unlikely date in ‘Ear’, and a naïve young wife, Belinda, in ‘Eye’, although her convincing doubling-up, athletically performed, was what the playwright intended.

In the two other roles, Rupert Hill is Ted, a swinging-sixties Jack-the-lad from Bob’s office who unashamedly chats up Doreen; and Jasper Britton is the bowler-hatted accountant so pompous that the buttons almost burst off his waistcoat when believing Belinda his wife is having an affair.

But these comic portrayals are not simply time-expired caricatures but near-as-dammit real people.

This production, performed at pace with an accurate sense of time and place, is a masterly revival that must be seen to be believed.

The Private Ear and The Public Eye continues at The Devonshire Park Theatre tonight (Friday, 7.45pm) and tomorrow (Saturday, 2.30pm, 7.45pm) - call the box office on 01323 412000.