Our Man in Havana review at Greenwich Theatre, London – ‘slickly staged’
Creative Cow’s touring show of Graham Greene’s comic spy novel Our Man in Havana is slickly staged. Like their previous revival of Greene’s Travels with My Aunt, this Clive Francis adaptation from 2007 has a cast of four playing dozens of characters as well as alternating as narrator, not to mention shifting furniture for multiple scene changes, in a fast-flowing and fluid production by artistic director Amanda Knott.
Set in pre-revolutionary Cuba in 1958, the indebted vacuum cleaner salesman Wormold is recruited by the British Secret Service after being tempted by their offer of lucrative payment to help bring up his teenage daughter as a single parent. Having nothing of genuine interest to report, he invents agents and situations (backed by diagrams copied from vacuum-cleaner parts) to boost his expenses account, but finds that fiction is strangely hijacked by reality.
The Greeneland tropes of betrayal, corruption, deception and guilt are present but as one of his self-described ‘entertainments’ Greene wrote the story with a lighter touch as a break from his more serious work.
Here the thriller elements are downplayed in favour of the comedy which is played rather broad, at times more farce than satire, with a few metatheatrical moments reminiscent of Patrick Barlow’s spoof The 39 Steps that don’t fit well with the rest of the show. The book’s subtle ironies and moral ambiguities are neglected, though there is a strong sense of surreal humour.
The cast display their versatility. Charles Davies gives the hapless Wormold a naive decency, with Isla Carter playing both his demanding young daughter and the spirited MI6 assistant he falls for, while James Dinsmore doubles nicely as his cynical upper-crust recruitment officer and a mysterious German doctor friend, and Michael Onslow is a sinister police chief among many other colourful cameos.