Review: ‘The Private Ear’ and ‘The Public Eye’ – The Apollo Players

On a free Saturday evening a friend sent me an impromptu invite to go along to watch this play and I was so glad I abandoned my sofa and the dubious thrills of XFactor and joined her to laugh our way through totally separate yet somehow entwined plays stretched over an enjoyable two hours.

Bob is the socially awkward and unassuming central character in part one – The Private Ear – soon to be fully usurped by the arrogant ‘friend’, Ted – played by Martin Ward, who helps him create the perfect dinner for a lady visitor to his flat. We watch astounded as the cocksure Ted proceeds to demolish Bob’s low self esteem further by casting aspersion on his random choice of cuisine, criticising his lack of etiquette and worldliness and then does the unthinkable – not one to spoil it for those of you hoping to attend I will simply add that it is an authentic set transporting the audience directly back to the early ’60’s and its language and sexist undertone delivers the same time warp. The costumes are excellent and the music incorporated adds pace and fun. Identifying the era we are entrenched in for that brief hour of time we accept the flaws of the characters yet our modern minds baulk at some of the crass comments from Ted throughout and ache for the socially inept Bob. Mark Duffus’s portrayal of Bob is self effacing, sometimes uncomfortable in his character’s pathetic passivity, yet we feel true empathy at his persona being overshadowed by Ted and forgotten in the menage a trois Ted creates at the dinner table. One cannot help but sense that true authenticity exists with Mark Duffus investing a large part of his own personality here.

The frozen in time scene is a directorial masterpiece, (Director Maggie Cardew)
but again, I shall leave that scene to those of you keen enough to attend, suffice to say it enables you as audience to feel truly immersed in the moments. Doreen, beautifully played by the talented Amy Burns, adds to the theme of a woman put ‘in her place’ as often explored by Shaffer and throws up the social mores of the time – constant allusions to an idolised and idealised father, a real sense of the early ’60’s patriarchal society and despite her obvious longing to break free from constraints, her inability to do so fully as she is no doubt being watched, and heard, by The Public Ear of society. We the audience fill that public gap too in this parallel universe within the play, eavesdropping on this private scene.

After a fun interval in the very reasonably priced Apollo bar with its amazing local art work for sale, and entirely ran by volunteers, Act two continued in a very different vein.

We now encounter the upbeat Belinda, Doreen’s antihesis, in a very independent and forthright woman who knows her own mind and thus transposes it onto her husband. Again, the patriarchial tone of the husband, he who hath strength and power over his young wife, yet sadly fails to hold her true attention, pervades the scene of his office and his ongoing wrestling of conscience. His equally tormented exchange with the Private Eye, deftly played by Mark Duffus, his former obscure persona entirely abandoned for a much more charming, confident individual with a true sense of self, allows insight into the male minds shaped in that era. Society’s expectations of the alpha male in control of his reality and the actual reality of a younger generation epitomized by his wife, depict a real struggle of how his love must surely conquer even the societal norm. In Belinda, we see the emergence of more freedom for women, of more soul searching and attainment for females, time to follow their own interests not simply tolerate and support their husbands. We see female emancipation, still brow beaten by traditional expectations, yet strident, exciting and very apt for its time. The final twist in the tale turns this second menage a trois into a very satisfying solution.

The play ran for two weeks – I’m so glad I caught it. I was not disappointed. Some of the cultural references to a bygone era and the quick witted one liners made us laugh out loud. Beautifully written; Shaffer’s world and sharp wit align smoothly to find life breathed into his words by a stellar cast recreating a farcical yet thought provoking, almost forgotten, time.

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