It was a pleasure to see the always enterprising Apollo Theatre Players tackle a rarely performed double bill by the late Peter Shaffer, ‘The Private Ear’ and ‘The Public Eye’.
These early plays – written in the early 1960s – were to a certain extent dated, with Shaffer rather self-consciously using terms like ‘groovy’ and ‘dig’ to demonstrate the extent to which he was down with the cats. However, the Shafferian theme of the conflict between reason and passion, though it wasn’t fully developed until his more mature plays, was already evident.
The first play, ‘The Private Ear’, is the slighter of the two, as the lonely and socially awkward Bob asks his swaggering, philistine friend Ted to help him out after he invites Doreen, whom he has met at a classical concert, to dinner at his flat. Mark Duffus gave a very good rendition of Bob’s awkwardness and his sadness as his attempts to share his passion for classical music with the largely unresponsive Doreen went over her head. Amy Burns made what she could out of the character of Doreen – think ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ out of ‘Billy Liar’ – but her rejection of Bob was believable and gave the play the pathos it needed. Martin Ward, playing against type as the flash and amoral Ted, gave a suitably louche performance; the contrast between his style and Bob’s – loud waistcoat vs beige slipover – was nicely brought out and Mark’s despair as (once again, we feel) Ted gets the girl was gentle and moving.
‘The Public Eye’ was an altogether meatier play. Charles, a buttoned-up accountant, suspects his wife, Belinda, of infidelity and employs a private detective to follow her. The text gave all the cast something to get their teeth into: Mark Duffus once again excelled as the detective, Julian, and Martin Ward was clearly more comfortable in the role of Charles, with his horrified disbelief that his wife could be acting so against the principles he has endeavoured to instil in her – which is, of course, the whole problem. Amy Burns gave the role of Belinda a lovely energy and focus, to contrast with Charles’ tight uprightness, and the contrast between all the characters was well brought out.
The cast are to be congratulated on their grasp of two very different characters each and a very significant number of lines, and the production rarely faltered. The sets were excellently realised and cleverly constructed, with the use of a swinging wall to transform Bob’s ‘trendy’ bedsit into Charles’ grey and brown office, and the wardrobe department excelled in bringing out the individuals’ characters. Overall, an excellent production, and one on which the Apollo Players should be congratulated.
Contributed by Ginnie Orrey
Martin Ward, Amy Burns and Mark Duffus take their bows!