The Little Hut

Written by André Roussin, translated by Nancy Mitford
Evergreen Theatrical Productions
Greenwich Theatre
(2010)

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The Little Hut is a delightfully frivolous piece, thick with witty dialogue and thin on plot.

Susan, her husband Philip and their best friend Henry are shipwrecked on a desert island, and a strange ménage à trois comes about when Susan and Henry reveal their hitherto secret affair and it is agreed that the two chaps will share Susan on a week-on-week-off basis, the gooseberry sleeping in the little hut of the title, whilst the week's happy couple share the larger hut.

Susan is very good natured and blissfully happy with the arrangements. She thinks both Philip and Henry are 'wonderful darling' and doesn't even seem to mind "the hut work" and the other domestic duties all of which fall on her.

"Soul of logic" Philip works out that he risks losing his wife and he needs to be a lover as well as a husband; he raises his game and finds contentment. The opposite is true for Henry in spite of getting the arrangements that he wished for. If this were a more thought provoking piece there might be a moral there.

Wife sharing is no longer the risqué topic it was sixty or so years ago when the play was first produced both in France and then England, in a translation by Nancy Mitford, with considerable success.

The Broadway production closed quickly, the story having too much ooh-la-la for a 1953 American audience and, as might have been predicted, the subsequent film failed to hit any mark by being over-tame despite Ava Gardner's alluring physique being much on display.

The theme of what the racy well-heeled get up to is also of diminished concern and so what interest remains lies very much with the Noël Coward-esque slick dialogue and the cast's ability to deliver it.

Janie Dee handles the dialogue effortlessly with spot-on comic timing. She may not have Ava Gardner's curves but even when hanging the washing she is graceful and elegant in a leg-exposing evening dress that hints at her promiscuous outlook.

Ms Dee makes Susan amiable and suitably dotty; her belief in fate and portentous omens (of which much is made in the first act and almost nothing in the second and third) is endearing rather than half-witted. She may carry her evening bag around with her on this desert island but she is resourceful enough to save the day when 'a savage' turns up in contrast to her two inept husbands.

Robert Portal plays the selfish Henry. His stiffness and received pronunciation especially well suited to the banter between the characters, to which he adds a petulant edge when he's not getting his own way: "He has no right to be in love with you, he's your husband," he snaps at Susan.

Dull and "perfectly balanced" Philip is played by Aden Gillett whose delivery is very funny though it occasionally sounds rather modern for the text, a feature reminiscent of his performance in Blithe Spirit. Managing to look dowdy even in a dinner jacket his apparent dreariness makes sense of Susan's affair (unlike Ava Gardner and hunky Stewart Granger), and Gillett's Philip becomes rather warm and likable.

It's all very congenial and unserious-minded which favours The Little Hut being a period piece rather than a dated piece. It is too insubstantial though to warrant two intervals and with a second act of only thirty minutes, the disruption is disproportionate. The loss of impetus towards the resolution spreads the material thinly even for a highly enjoyable light comedy.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti