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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 10. 1964.

"The Private Ear" and "The Public Eye"

page 5

"The Private Ear" and "The Public Eye"

This Year's second Drama Club production can only be said to have made the best of a bad job. The two Schaffer plays seemed to me, fatuous, circular, and, what is more, badly written. The old argument, irrelevant but ubiquitous, whether legitimate theatre I should or should not be "entertainment." is raised by a playwright who I feel cares little for the theatre and much more for cinema and television.

Two things Kenneth Tynan said seem to me relevant to this:

"In a theatre starved by the cinema and besieged by television necessities must come first," and "The salient thing about Jimmy Porter was that we the under-30 generation in Britain, recognised him on sight. For the first time the theatre was speaking to us in our own terms."

"The Private Ear" and "The Public Eye" ignore the first and commercially exploit the second.

Firstly, what oldtimers call nostalgically "'the idea of theatre" has become with Schaffer a cinematic "mls-en-scene." The tricks with the tape-recorder during the meal in "The Private Ear," the use of gramophone music to lend a sense of irony and emotional depth to the scenes between Bob and Doreen, are strictly cinematic. They lack theatrical inevitability, and their facile importance to the plot tells me that Schaffer has very little to say—in the theatre, that is—and that the way he says it doesn't help any.

Obviously gleaned from Claude Chabrol's films, these coups de theatre were really the okay thing with the nouvelle-vague filmmakers four years ago. I fail to see why the legitimate theatre has to be the final resting-place of cinematic cliches.

Both plays posture as things talking in the language of the under-30 generation. I mean, they try so hard to be up-to-date and everything. However, both plays have such a goo-goo indulgent style that they were obviously written with the idea of selling the television rights and making a lot of money indulging the masses—the under-30s in the "Private Ear" are really quite nice and easy to take, even pathetic. And the chi-chi bourgeois in "The Public Eye" are obviously rather intelligent under all that pomposity.

But the point of Jimmy Porter was his vital and critical relation to society; and he was new. The mood of these two plays is static and accepting, and old hat.

Because of the plays' brief television length, each character is more or less in stasis before the plays begin. Consequently all they do is toddle around and enforce a point, which may or may not be true. As nothing organic or important is ever done with it we never find out.

With Jimmy Porter the pleasures of recognition came at finding in him an honest spokesman. He spoke not for himself but for so many like him. Schaffer's plays give us pleasures of recognition that smack of self-indulgence—being told how lovely, funny, poignant, interesting our little incommunicative failings are; being reassured about them.

And all these seas of dialogue Shaw did so much more pungently. The great heaving long dialogue between Belinda and her husband in "The Public Eye" about their marriage was admittedly not helped repetitive production moves. The endless rapprochements had the easy-to-takeness, the text-book-like charm that distinguishes dead or dying interest on the part of the playwright, and of which you can see a similar sort of thing in "Love Story" every Sunday night on the "telly."

Because of the young actors and young producer, "The Private Ear" worked better than "The Public Eye." Peter Engerbretsen, the producer, was evidently not nearly so puzzled as to how to make his actors move in the first play. Most actions performed usually made some naturalistic sense and did not look as if they were about to be filmed for television as in the second play.

Denis Welch believed in the character of Bob, and with his myopic, hurt and introverted eyes, he gave a fresh and sincere rendering of the perennial incommunicant. Irene Wood as Doreen was deliciously fatuous, bitchy and statically sustained in her characterisation. As Ted. Stephen Whitehouse had an exciting sense of panache, being thinly smeared over unintelligent egotism. He moved like an automaton, the future board chairman, dead behind the eyes.

"The Public Eye" provided Jack Richards with the stamping ground for Julian Christophorou. He jiggled, flicked, bounced and bubbled his way through it. I was only a little incredulous when he spoke of having had a passion for other men's wives.

Helen Sutch battled bravely with a part that required her to bore and be bored. Her endless confrontations with her husband's back, a nasty blue on the part of the producer, did not help her much, and Belinda's genteel regrets would be difficult for any actress to make convincing. She looked terrific, anyway. John Tripe was the required hunk of granite as her husband, but was not very happy in his long perambulating moves during his big speeches to Julian.

The sets by Graham McLean looked more retractable than representational but they were nicely finished in detail and better painted than most.

Maarten Van Dijk.