The Swinging Sixties seems to have passed by without making much impact into the life of office clerk Bob in Peter Shaffer’s delightful one act comedy The Private Ear.
The three hander, which opened this week at Milton Keynes Theatre alongside a stable mate, The Public Eye, starts off pretty mundanely and soon has you absorbed in the minutiae of sad little Bob’s life.
By the close there’s nothing but an outpouring of sympathy for the shy, socially inept drone who can only express himself through his passion for classical music.
Right from the start he’s marked out as different. He’s on a first date and asks a Jack-the-lad type from the office to come and lend moral support by cheffing for the night.
It’s inevitable that the whole night will be a disaster. Bob (brilliantly observed by Heartbeat actor Steven Blakeley) does his best but he’s lost in a world that he doesn’t understand.
Former Corrie star Rupert Hill does his best Alfie impression as wide boy Ted – he couldn’t be more of a contrast to his supposed mate – while Siobhan O’Kelly, dressed in her smartest outfit, complete with fake ocelot fur, plays an endearing dolly date Doreen.
There’s a novel hand-over to the second one-act drama which sees Blakeley take on the role of professional private eye, amateur psychologist and ardent muncher, Julian Cristoforou, who is employed by insanely jealous accountant Charles Sidley (Jasper Britton) to snoop on his wife.
Although two separate stories (though re-employing the services of Blakeley and O’Kelly) they share common themes. Of the two Public Eye is the more overtly funny with the ghost of its former star, Kenneth Williams, haunting the versatile Mr Blakeley’s performance.
Britton returns to comedy as the older man trying hard to control the green-eyed monster threatening his marriage to a pretty, though, once again, naïve, much younger wife (O’Kelly in Audrey Hepburn mode).
The answer to his dilemma is wonderfully thought out and deliciously funny. Both plays have hidden depths and are clever in their construction – as clever as Hayley Grindle’s wonderfully changing set.
The Private Ear, The Public Eye runs until Saturday. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7652 or go online www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes