Stylish and dark comic double bill set in 1960s - interview with Steven Blakeley

The Private Ear and The Public Eye
The Private Ear and The Public Eye

Actor Steven Blakeley says “human nature doesn’t change”. And that’s exactly why two plays from 1962 are proving fascinating and funny to a modern audience.

Blakeley, best known as PC Geoff Younger in ITV’s Heartbeat, stars in The Private Ear and The Public Eye, two one-act bitter-sweet comedies performed as a matching pair on the same night.

It’s the first major revival of multi-award winning playwright Sir Peter Shaffer’s earlier and lesser-known work.

Blakeley said: “Peter Shaffer had such success later in his career with plays like Equus and Amadeus, it’s a great honour to be rediscovering some of his earlier and lesser-known work. The two plays share similar themes.

“Both are about how human beings relate to each other, specifically in terms of expectations, how other people react to their expectations and what happens if expectations are not met.”

The plays give the audience a fascinating window into the turbulent changing attitudes to love in the 1960s through a combination of comedy, pathos and drama.

Derbyshire-born Blakeley said:“Human nature doesn’t change that much in 50-odd years - it doesn’t change much in 500 years. I have been in plays where the story feels a bit old, a bit dated, but with these ones they didn’t.”

The 60s are a familiar setting for Blakeley thanks to his time in Heartbeat.

He said: “I always seem to end up with a 60s haircut and 60s clothes. For the play we did an awful lot of research into the socioeconomic context of the time. I looked at similar things for Heartbeat and I was quite surprised with how much I remembered. I’m a great fan of history and this was a decade of great change.”

The cast also includes Jasper Britton, Rupert Hill and Siobhan O’Kelly, who like Blakeley plays two roles.

Blakeley said: “It’s an actor’s nightmare performing two characters in the same show and trying to show the audience a full range of acting skills, but one character is very insular and the other is quite eccentric so it’s a different energy. I go for two extremes.”

The show opened in Guildford on August 29 and Blakeley said they’ve seen audience members leaving at the interval with tears in their eyes.

He said: “It isn’t all doom and gloom. One moment you’ll be in hysterics, rolling around on the floor, and the next really deep in thought. Even in the saddest situations comedy is never far away. If you think about how people deal with the most appalling terrible things happening in their life, they put a brave face on and have a bit of a laugh. Comedy and pathos are very closely linked.”

The original run of the plays in the West End starred Kenneth Williams and Maggie Smith, then transferred to Broadway in 1963 where Barry Foster and Geraldine McEwan took up the lead roles.

Blakeley said: “It was for us to interpret as we wanted, but remaining extremely faithful to the original text which was very important. You have to trust Shaffer as a writer. We have put our mark as actors on it, and of course so has the director, the design team – the whole package is new, but it is faithful to the original. Julian was originally played by Kenneth so read qutie a bit around that. Mgagi but in terms of solid reference points there were of few had a blank canvas. but such a good writer, gives you so many clues in the text.”

At Milton Keynes Theatre from October 7 - 12. Call the box office on 08448717652 or visit for tickets.