by André Roussin translated by Nancy Mitford.

Tour to 15 May 2010.
Runs 2hr 5min One interval + one pause.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 April at Greenwich Theatre.

Apt lightness in the playing of a mid-century hit.
This 1947 light French comedy isn’t directed by Peter Brook. But the English premiere was, sixty years ago. Not that it seemed quite so light then. An incidental pleasure of Tim Luscombe’s revival is listening how Nancy Mitford avoids saying the obvious about a wife-sharing scheme among two very respectable friends shipwrecked on a tropical island.

Henry’s been Susan’s lover six years without husband Philip realising. Now, with social barriers down and accommodation limited to a big hut for two and a little hut for one, all comes into the open.

By the time he concludes secrecy has its place in such affairs, Roussin’s rustled up another figure, an apparent island prince, all latter-day woad and physical dignity, to Susan’s delight. Mitford’s powers of suggestive discretion are increasingly called upon, while Janie Dee implies the evident widening in Susan’s sexual experience.

Otherwise, despite Luscombe and Tom Turner seeking to offset patronising assumptions, its clear how the portrayal of non-Europeans has developed since the mid-20th century. Roussin has a trick to play with this character, but he remains an awkward intrusion.

Mark Friend’s set – a raised disc surrounded by island objects scooped up by actors when needed, set against black curtains – helps disguise that this is quite a small-scale production. Apart from the acting. Robert Portal, first seen sunbathing in underpants, is a picture of neatness, the respectable bourgeois husband – except he’s the lover, while Aden Gillett’sl Philip, smilingly cheerful behind his spectacles, slow to see what his friend’s hinting at, is the hitherto happy husband.

Philip’s the descendant of the love versus friendship characters littered through literary history. Gillett’s bright manner plays a splendid comic variation on the type while Portal’s Henry takes everything so seriously.

Between them Dee’s Susan comes into her happy own, yanking-up more of her rich European dress to warm her legs in the sun. She gains a commanding position – at one point sitting with island accoutrements like the figure of Britannia. Someone whose nature overflows any male scheme, she lets the men worry about the morals, being determined to enjoy what life has brought.

Henry: Robert Portal.
Susan: Janie Dee.
Philip: Aden Gillett.
Stranger: Tom Turner.

Director: Tim Luscombe.
Designer: Mark Friend.
Lighting: Hansjorg Schmidt.
Sound: Gareth McLeod.

2010-04-26 01:33:41

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